One of the most important hip-hop songs of all time has to be Digital Underground’s “Doowutchyalike.” Not only was it a party favorite, it spread a message through the hip-hop world that people somehow knew existed, but never knew was so vital to their artform. In hip-hop, everybody should be able to do what they like. Applied to today’s candidate in the CD player, the message would read: You wanna name your crew The Slug Crumbs? Name your crew how you like. You wanna call your record “The Diatomaceous Earth EP”? Call your record how you like. You wanna sound really different? Sound how you like.
Anybody waiting for a “but?” Here it is: The “Doowutchyalike” motto is likely to interfere with other rules of this game, the most important still being: Don’t come wack. Combine the two and you come up with something like this: Sound how you like, but don’t expect people to like you when you sound wack. To the reviewer trying to reach a verdict helpful to all parties involved, ‘wack’ is too harsh a word, and there really is no need to call The Slug Crumbs wack. The question is rather if this is really how they WANT to sound like. It’s very much like in the courts – the crime has obviously been committed, but ultimately intent and circumstances determine whether the defendant is guilty or not.
That’s the problem with self-produced and homemade music. You never know if technical limitations stood in the way of a better recording. Hailing from Philly, rapper Random and DJ Saint B don’t seem to take the low-fi approach on purpose, because their music is multi-layered, with scratches, movie snippets, beat changes, processed voices and unusual samples all on deck. Opening up with an excerpt from the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (with Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp), which they totally make their own, The Slug Crumbs raise expectations high with a suspenseful intro. While the actors debate whether what they’re waiting for will ever come, a disturbing yet alluring shimmering sound starts to seep through the speakers, and once the movie dialogue correlates with the SC’s arrival, you find yourself on an extraterrestrial hip-hop soundscape that is later ironized by a Mobb Deep quote where Prodigy carries on about “that crazy space shit that don’t even make no sense.”
Forget about space shit, The Slug Crumbs are on something even more far-fetched. Or so they think: “We’re on some old other / which becomes even more apparent when contrasted with others on some other / we hover far above ’em,” proclaims Random in “Motion.” When in fact, like others before them, they merely extend the battling arsenal with unusual imagery and vocabulary. On one single cut like “Motion” you’ll encounter everything from insulting one-liners (“I heard your dad rocks a Pink t-shirt and protests Iverson’s lyrics”) to silly and sensible lyrics combined in just a few bars (“Come here, let’s talk / like Cambodian death squads / conclusion: since atoms never stop movin’ / there’s no such thing as proof and truth is an illusion”). Flowing in a classic bass-filled East Coast tone, Random lives up to his name lyric-wise, but despite claiming that they “hate to rap repetitive,” the raps DO tend to get repetitive, simply because of the rapper’s muffled delivery and his hard-to-follow lyrics.
Here’s an experiment I did: I accessed the first regular track where Random raps, “Strong Arm.” It sounded like worth quoting, so I started to transcribe the lyrics:
“You love this Slug Crumbs shit, we’re on you like fungus
with the speed of kung fu launches, sucker punches
knocked Funky Drummer in the gut and took his drum kit
Fucked up shit, got drunk, jetted back to the Slug Pit
Rappers bitch about labels, how they don’t pay well
when they didn’t pay dues, don’t deserve revenues
and try to compensate for little cocks
This ain’t bangin’ in Little Rock
it’s not thug shit, I’m on some real thug Slug spit”
Somewhere at this point the lyrics start to morph into a heap of blah-blah I was either not able or did not care to decipher. Casual listeners who don’t have to focus on what’s being said the way a reviewer does, will probably encounter similar problems when listening to The Slug Crumbs. “The Diatomaceous Earth” might look like a record with an interesting concept and it might even sound interesting at first, but it eventually will conquer anyone’s attention span. Inferior recording equipment cannot be blamed for everything. Often, producer Saint B tries to stuff too much into a track, hence causing the raps to clash with certain sound elements.
This is all the more unfortunate as both DJ Saint B and Random show promise in their respective department. The tracks stray from well-trodden paths, consisting of strange samples and sound effects and rocking challenging rhythms. The raps are imaginative, delivered in a flow that is more agile than most monotone mainstream flows. That’s why regardless of sound quality, The Slug Crumbs manage to come up with something to write home about. “Motion” is what an alien military band might sound like. “The .UBIK. Wit Us Freestyle Track” unearths a sample any cutting-edge producer would kill for. Starting with track number 5, Random’s lyrics become more abstract, leaving songs like “The Paperwork Shuffle” and “Clothesline” open to interpretation. “Caustic Spit” features a surprisingly well working guest apperance by British MC Tommy Evans. And among the best cuts are “Universal Lockdown” (f/ Jessica Spanger) and “Apathy” (f/ Shannon Baldwin) who both profit from unorthodox female guest vocals.
If “The Diatomaceous Earth EP” stands for anything, it’s the lasting influence of Kool Keith and Dan The Automator’s seminal Dr. Octagon project from 1996. Its sound is more dark, its content more serious, but it was basically conceived with the same frame of mind. Keeping it surreal, The Slug Crumbs definitely ‘do what they like’. The combined forces of cheap production and experimental hip-hop may be too much to bear for most listeners, but those who are always looking for something a little bit different might very well come across The Slug Crumbs one day.