Back in the mid-nineties, Halifax, Nova Scotia may have seemed like a hip-hop wasteland to strangers to the port city on the Canadian East coast. But make no mistake, in some shape or form hip-hop has been nesting in every nook and cranny on this planet ever since “Rapper’s Delight” or at least “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”, and Halifax was no exception. So rather than a beginning, for the Haligonian hip-hop scene the first volume of “The Bassments of Badmen”, released in 1996, marked the end of an era when everybody was family, members of which included Buck 65, Sixtoo, Hip Club Groove, Gordski, Classified and Witchdoc Jorun. For the city as a hip-hop spot of international note it was just the beginning, though. Since then, a number of Halifax hip-hop representatives have been able to make a name for themselves on a much larger scale, from avantgarde rappers Buck 65, Sixtoo and Josh Martinez to the freshly-decorated winner of the Scribble Jam 2003 DJ contest, Skratch Bastid, or DJ Moves, who had a taste of commercial success as a member of the pop act Len.

Seven years later Hand’Solo Records is back with the second installment of “The Bassments of Badmen”, its roster expanding beyond Halifax to Toronto and even across the border. Still, it is up to residential crew The Verbals (assisted by Fact) to set it off with “Enter the Bassment (The Halifax Takeover)”, a darkly brooding track rhythmically bursting out into wails and roars. Going by this cut, Halifax is a nice place, but you wouldn’t wanna live there if your skills aren’t up to par: “Bring your best MC to me, he’ll catch a beatdown from four angry MC’s with frowns / we’re here to take the town and all the fuckin’ fake clowns.” Like some angry mob they “spark chorus and chant / for those who can’t last / Bassments, the glory days past.” You don’t have to be familiar with these ‘glory days’ to realize that “The Bassments of Badmen: Volume 2” sounds mucho different from its predecessor. Because 2003 ain’t nothin’ like 1996.

Once you’ve entered this ‘Bassment’, you find yourself in a parallel hip-hop universe the average hip-hop listener is sure to get lost in. This is difficult music it takes time to digest, music that doesn’t tolerate the slightest distraction. Add the fact that the MC’s aren’t exactly easy to understand, and unless you like to bury your head in dissonance and distortion while pondering the meaning of “twisted oregami napkins, I got a fistful / throw them in the air, watch ’em fly so blissful,” you’ll soon enough long for Buck 65’s poetic calm or Classified’s seasoned brand of hip-hop.

But should you be able to adjust to the natives’ language, it suddenly won’t seem so strange anymore. The Verbals for instance are just as conscious about good old fashioned hip-hop standards as anybody, vowing to “skip the bullshit like a farmer in the field,” closing with the request to “DJ’s and MC’s and graffiti artists” to “represent, represent, y’all.” On “Bury the Bodies”, Fritz Tha Cat, Mindbender and Vangel (“every line the naked truth cause I deserve exposure”) taunt MC’s like just about every rapper before them, although they end their endeavor on a somewhat quirky note with a Kool Keith quote going “in Toronto I used to jerk off in a ten room condo.” At the moment, the performers on this CD are ligthyears away from such rap star decadence, as you can tell by AME 109’s words on “Citizens Are Gifted”:

“A little fish can only wish to see his record sell
I’m from the L, born and raised and I’m amazed things progress this well
Our hip-hop scene won’t be featured in the Source magazine
but it’s growing and steadily showing improvement
[…] in syncopated body movements
or heads cutting records and reciting rhymes
It’s been happening for years, but these are exciting times”

They always are, for somebody actively involved in his or her local hip-hop scene. What remains to be seen is if any of these newcomers will one day reach the format of a Buck 65, making this compilation a collector’s item. For now, it is simply a snapshot of the local underground – which apparently includes a crew rhyming in Japanese (Spiritual Juice’s “Break Down”). 20 tracks deep, “The Bassments of Badmen: Volume 2” is sure to have its ups and downs. As usual, it’s not least a quality issue. Conspiracy’s amateurish ways prevent “Oblivion” from getting a fair chance, while you just can’t help but be enamoured with The IF?’s “The Prosecution Rests” and its spaced-out bump which makes its producer Gibran look like some distant relative of Da Beatminerz.

If you can handle the nerdy antics of The Tooning Spork and Restiform Bodies or the self-absorbed musings of Noah 23 and Selfhelp, you’ll be rewarded with a couple of noteworthy cuts. Creature Box make a solid case for non-conformist hip-hop with “Ciggaret Butt Sandwitch (Call Home)”, as do Ill Seer and Vangel for thinking aloud and then letting your actions even speak louder with “Theory Vs. Practice”. SJ “the wordburlgaaaaarrr” will force you to smile at his over-the-top animated performance (“Wordburglar”), while Thesis demands quiet on the set when he takes a look into the teenage mind (“Teen Idols”). Toolshed get props for getting their message across the clearest. With its playful, jazzy vibe “Flash Forward” may sound dated, but their foreshadowing of the looming ecological nightmare is right on point:

“Every morning take a virtual walk in the hills
then shower, shampoo; just been poppin’ a pill
no juice to drink, the produce, it stinks
Your future brings the cold truth that stings”

Various Artists :: The Bassments of Badmen - Volume 2
5.5Overall Score