If you make yourself familiar with the first decade of recorded hip-hop music, you will notice an incredible variety of styles. Especially during the new school explosion of the mid-eighties, people were experimenting with new images and attitudes, flows and rhyme patterns, breakbeats and drum machines at an unparalleled rate. Though that revolutionary era eventually gave way to one of slower paced evolutions, you can still bank on one thing when it comes to this music: time and time again hip-hop has been re-shaped and re-defined, rendering any attempts to narrow it down to a certain message or style futile. Despite all the traditionalists and bandwagoners that have and always will be part of it, there will always people who dare to dismiss any notion of “how it should be done.” Some of them are being heard and in the process influence others, some won’t make the history books at all. The fate of the New Yorker three-man outfit Regenerated Headpiece remains unclear, but it’s obvious that they’re going for something different.
“Since hip-hop became pop culture / I reinvent the structure,” they proclaim in their most explicit anti-system statement, “Anthem Eater”. Complains Phon-X: “They’re not trying to listen / they’re too busy buying a Disney-sponsored prison / a conglomerate division of government and business.” A clear message in a relatively strange context, considering that Phon-X actually talks to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. in that scene… Not scared to use their extended vocabulary (big word alert!), Regenerated Headpiece build their rhymes from the ground up, not relying on clichÃ© phrases but on original trains of thought that, while twisted at times, still manage to be insightful. You’ll find that RHP is quite convincing at “asserting my authority forcefully,” as Shred Lexicon puts it, adding, “to hell with normalcy.”
Yet unlike other rappers that rage against the machine or experiment with new formulas, Regenerated Headpiece seem to have fun with the artform. There’s a comical undertone to what’s being said and how it’s being said that shields the two rappers from a more critical inspection. At the same time, Phon-X and Shred Lexicon both possess undeniable eloquence. Similar sentiments are evoked when it comes to the music. The album gives off a strange overall impression, but is able to convince in detail. The opening title track starts with a kennel of dogs barking and ends with a piano solo, and from there on out the flood gates are open for everyting from rock elements, smooth horns, DJ Exfyle’s scratching, unexpected vocal harmonizing, strings, keyboard musings, and every drum set imaginable to good ol’ distortion. If anything can be said about the musical merits of “Dog Fight”, it’s that RHP really aren’t afraid to touch anything. It’s that boldness that keeps music and message in sync, even if it makes for a rather contorted concerto.
In this musical patchwork, several songs stand out, either for their topic or their execution. There’s the 10-minute-long “Retaliate” that reminds you of The Coup the way it scores on the musical front and makes strong political comments at the same time: “Ram the castle gate, overthrow the fascist state, assassinate the magistrate, retaliate!” “Robot Whores” puts a twist on an old science fiction thought by actually championing the idea of a ‘robot whore’ because RHP see that “man needs sex, not war”. “Escape from Slavecamp” depicts office jobs as “the thinking man’s prison” where the boss acts as the overseer:
“Don’t question a task that last hours
he’ll nitpick every bit to show power
Nothing’s his fault, even though it’s opposite
His composite can be confused with vomitted feces
He’s sneaky, he has hidden cameras
and he’s peeking behind my monitor
I’ll promise ya, one day you’ll hear this song
and know all along
I made money from you being a fuckface
My life is like that movie _Office Space_
Except my cube has no walls
no room to scratch my balls”
Lyrically, this is about as concrete as it gets. Elsewhere, Phon-X and Shred Lexicon tend to be more abstract (occasionally even too abstract, see “Fragments of Segments of Tangents”), yet always mix it with an almost old schoolish dedication to bragging and battling (“Cyclops Monocle”). Delivery-wise, their peculiar style gets exposed as soon as more traditional flows surface when guests Munch (“New Colors”) and M.Port’d Flows (“Mass Times Matter”) enter the scene. Likewise, the instrumental “BYOB” (read that as “Bring Your Own Books”) by Don Q and Old Yist offers a welcome break from the vocal overbearance of the two near-twin-like rappers.
What ultimately makes “Dog Fight” rather hard to get into, may be the overall feeling of stiffness. Instead of knee-bending beats and raps that roll over, you get lots of bits and pieces that have trouble morphing into each other. But whether you’re fascinated or disgusted by this “Dog Fight”, you’ll have to acknowledge Regenerated Headpiece for making a record that is funny and serious, old school and experimental at the same time.