If you’re a true hip-hop fanatic, you always have a list of names to check out, singles to buy, albums to borrow, remixes to tape, freestyles to download, etc. The name Foreign Legion has remained engraved in the upper regions of my to-do list for the past two plus years. But you know how it is, some things just don’t seem supposed to happen. Then the other day, quite unexpectedly, my introduction to Foreign Legion finally materialized itself thanks to Look Records, who sent me, the reviewer, this record so I can tell you, the reader, what it’s all about.

Obviously, the catch here is I am new to the crew and therefore can’t tell you how this sophomore effort compares to their debut “Kidnapper Van: Beats to Rock While Bike-Stealin'”. But I can tell you this: if you’re looking for good, (mostly) clean fun, then look no further because “Playtight” packs 13 party starters that are set to blow speakers from coast to coast like the second Liks LP. The album resumes right where last year’s “Happy Drunk” b/w “Feel the Music” single left you. 2 MC’s and 1 DJ bringing some of that California sunshine into people’s lives, creating ditties so nimble and simple they can be gone with the wind at a moment’s notice but still leave the scent of pure funk lingering. “Happy Drunk” features many quotables, but the line “this is that Cali funk for all my happy drunks” probably sums it up best. If Foreign Legion don’t take themselves too serious, that is exactly the reason why they’re enjoying themselves to much:

“Cruisin’ down the street in my Ford Tempo
but in my mind I’m hittin’ switches in a black 6-4
and in my mind I got money overflowin’ out my pockets
hit the gas, hit the break, I’m frontin’ like I got hydraulics
it’s not the same, I can’t afford a stereo or registration
no antenna, all I get is Spanish stations
AM, no FM, but in my mind I’m Hugh Heff’ and
pull up to the club, in my mind honeys are checkin'”

As with most successful duos, a lot of Foreign Legion’s magic lies in how well they compliment each other, the vocal balance probably being the most important. As far as characters go, Prozack is the irreverent, short-fused nerdy type while the laid-back Marc Stretch seems to look at things from a more philosophical point of view, his mind occupied with wordplay and finding new ways to flow. But when it comes down to it, their minds interlock and easily focus on the common goal. In “Feel the Music”, Stretch compares the duo to the Blues Brothers or Mahoney and Hightower from “Police Academy”, while his partner in rhyme adds, “Prozack and Marc Stretch / we go together like Kennedys and death / after a show I need a drink and then a shower / I don’t wanna freestyle, I been rappin’ for the last hour / love to talk hip-hop but I got ADD / unless you got big titties and a Foreign Legion baby tee.”

This is pretty much FL’s standard MO for “Playtight”, a lot of nonsense being offered in the most meaningful way. “Roommate Joint” has them washing the dirty laundry they amassed while living togeher, Prozack showing himself to be particularly grumpy:

“We gonna get evicted if we don’t pay the shit quick
livin’ outside and I ain’t tryin’ to have a picnic
To PlayStation you’re addicted
sittin’ on your ass all night and all day
Get your bike out the hallway
clean your dirty dishes
you owe me $80 for the phone bill, 900-BITCHES
(Well, you’re the one that’s bitchin’)
Well, your dog took a shit in the kitchen
I stepped in it, why you think I’m trippin’?”

“Nasty Lady” is a straight up S&M fantasy, where Prozack becomes “Thor, the Human Jackhammer, sicker than Caligula, mixed with Dirk Diggler,” but is keen enough to tell his playmate, “don’t forget to set the clock, you got church in the morning, girl.” It seems characteristically for Foreign Legion that they would put this extra spin on it, after all, “Nasty Lady” would be only half as funny without its ironic chorus: “I’ve never been in love like this before / and we can even hold hands on the shore / and you can be my cherie amor / but I need a naughty girl when we close the door.”

Despite gettin’ explicit every now and then, Foreign Legion aren’t overly rowdy or raunchy. These guys are good-natured, a quality that last but not least comes out in their voices. Think of Foreign Legion as a less violent, conceptually more inclined West Coast equivalent of The Beatnuts, with traits of other Cali groups such as People Under The Stairs, Tha Liks and Ugly Duckling. If you listen close enough, you will even be able to make out the Oakland influence in the crew’s style, lyrically with the inclusion of certain expressions (“your folks is back”, “do the damn thang”) or a sly reference to 2Pac (the title track’s “live from Nothern California here to drop in on ya” mirroring “straight outta Oakland, California where we spark it on ya” from “Nothin But Love”), but more importantly in the music. Tracks like “It’s Working” and “Champagne Beamin'” have been nurtured by the Bay Area’s deep understanding of funk. The breezy “Feel the Music” evokes comparisons to SoleSides’ finest moments, “Nasty Lady”, “Happy Drunk” and “Y’all Ain’t Ready” follow the Northern Cali definition of bass closely. With his near-perfect blend of boom and bap, a natural sound and exquisite samples, producer DJ Design emerges as Foreign Legion’s secret star.

Not every track causes as much commotion as the neck-snapping “Bring It” or the smoothly running “Party Crashers”, but since even the hungriest pack of party animals will have their fill sooner or later, the quieter moments on “Playtight” allow Foreign Legion to contemplate streaks of bad luck (“Voodoo Star”) or the not so glamorous life of an upcoming rapper (“How Do it Feel?”). But despite these forays into thematically more serious territory, “Playtight” shines brightest when it feels like a joyride on these bikes they stole last time around.

Foreign Legion :: Playtight
7.5Overall Score