We’ve seen it many a time, some young entrepreneurs set up their own record label, sign a bunch of local rappers and release compilations on which said rappers get to showcase their talent. Today’s upstart label is Self Made Records operating out of Benton Harbor, MI. A quick inventory reveals that there is nothing unusual to report from this particular place.

But within the realm these people are making their moves, they’re probably doing everything right or at least nothing wrong. Reppin’ their home turf, these rappers know their place. Or as Jinx puts it: “We gon’ be around this bitch until everybody is all gone / and when everybody is all gone we gon’ be here all alone.” Still, success seems to be within reach, as he declares a little further into the album: “You hoes musta ain’t know or ain’t heard the word / officer, we move big units, not big birds.” Moving big units around these parts means selling thousands of records. Local labels do it regularly and Self Made Records’ Mr. Mack looks to achieve this as well with this release, to ship “ghetto gold” (100’000 units). He isn’t alone in his quest, and so he hooks up with one of his peers, and together they send their troops to open up this compilation with the “SMR-Larry Boyz” collaboration. Over a synthed-out track a bunch of rappers bless the mic Midwest style, setting the pace for the rest of the album.

The influence of the rowdy Southern style can certainly be spotted on “The Infantry – Volume 1”. But there’s also a lyrical element to it that shows that these aren’t just some dudes picked off the street and shipped to a studio. Still, there’s a lot of thugged out material on this CD, from the pushing and shoving “Duck & Run” to “Jump up on It”, where C-Note and Jason advocate promiscuity, yelling at women: “Gimme some head!” while scaring their baby daddies away by shouting: “Off with his head!”

As it is often the case with such compilations, they can be at times funny, embarrassing, dope, wack… classifications that furthermore vary from listener to listener. Some things become clear when listening to this label showcase, though. Rapper Jinx is their main asset. He pens the best verses, has the tightest rhyming skills, possesses the most mature flow and voice. It comes as no surprise that he already is past his solo debut (“Tha Troublemaker”). Rappers like D.G., C-Note, Wata, Polo and Fella are able to carry some of the load as well. The next generation is best represented by a young buck named Houston, whose intelligent, quick-paced delivery makes songs like “Gangsta Shit” and “SMR-Certified” guaranteed attention grabbers. Although most of the topics are tired, it’s obvious that we’re dealing with rappers who give their lyrics thought, who are demanding when it comes to their own performance.

One other thing that might benefit Self Made Records in the long run is that this CD reflects the professional work ethic these guys apparently possess. Their music might be far from perfect, but you can sense that they’re willing to get there. All the rappers are able to stay on beat. They know how to make tracks that work. They may be a little simpler than those that Mannie Fresh puts together for Cash Money Records, but they work. Tracks that actually work are a rarity on self-made records, but not a problem for Self Made Records. Handled by just one man (C-Note) and being completely digitized, the beats have all the makings of turning out uninspired, but somehow, tweaked into the right position, they turn out just right for the occasion. Well, the snare drum gets abused hard, but that’s just the style we’re dealing with here.

The style’s regional, but not really regional in the sense that it carries no special local type of flavor. It’s the same mixture of Down South/Bay Area sound that provincial producers of hardcore reality rap often turn to. Every track conveys a different mood. Samples or experienced musicianship might bring better results, but that would seriously cramp this particular style. Often it’s the experimental nature of such tracks that render them interesting. A good example would be “Street Value” that starts out with some deep bass drops, then you hear the noise of a helicopter approaching, but that quickly fades out (only to regularly reappear again) as some very metallic-sounding keyboard dashes make their way into the track. Add to that some drums and two more keyboard melodies occasionally dropped into the mix and you’ve got a very interesting track that is more than just the sum of its parts. In other words: it works.

Especially pleasing to the ear is the funked out “Pimp Hoes”, which has C-Note, Jinx and Ghetto-E givin’ up game with lines like: “And I ain’t sayin’ I’m a pimp, I’m just big and huggable / I’m a business man, I ain’t got no time for lovin’ you.” Him and Jinx are already way into “Move Weight” when C-Note thinks about varying the flat track a little bit, but when you gotta follow the lyrics, you can’t pay too much attention to the beat anyway:

“I’m the pure caine, ain’t much work to me
what’s work to me is how the Jinx workin’ these streets
and workin’ his heat, my finger not missin’ a beat
and I found a new connect, hit ’em 15 a piece
I’m clogged with drugs, nigga, like a IV hose
and they dope might get you cold but mine gon’ leave you froze
I got that raw for your nose, that x for them hoes
that acid for them white boys, done wild-ass shows
I got that water for them killers, that syrup for them sippers
that ‘dro for them big-money spendin’, them drug-dealers
got that heat for them hip-hop heads at high school
When I drop this one niggas can ride like I do”

Another highlight is the romantic “SMR-Certified”, where Polo, Houston and Jinx look for that special lady that complies with their SMR standards. Check the chorus:

“I’m lookin’ for a self-made woman who’s certified
with a shine so bright, it’ll hurt your eyes
Girl, work your thighs, I’m Audi like yesterday
Once I get your demo, boo, I throw the rest away”

It’s very unlikely that you will throw the rest of your records away once you get a hold of “The Infantry – Volume 1”. It ain’t that good. Often, it’s not even good period. There might be the occasional dope line in the wack track like this diss in “Bring it On”: “Put your make-up on, put your thong on, put your song on / Thong Song got you switchin’ hormones.” There are some of the classic moments that you love this type of rap for, like C-Note demanding: “Money’s the root of all evil but fuck it, gimme mine.” But in the end “The Infantry – Volume 1” is just another local record that will deservedly remain local despite this exposure on the worldwide web.

The Infantry :: Volume 1
5.5Overall Score