Having an alter ego to get yourself a distinctive reputation in the ever expanding world of hip-hop music is becoming more and more popular. Although the underground railroad musicians Josh Martinez and Sleep do not sport an iron mask 24/7, did not perform any alien autopsies wearing a white labcoat, and certainly do not smoke weed with a yellow mischievous alien, naming yourself after ‘chicharones,’ a tasty Latin American porkskin snack, and acting like ‘scumsucking pigs’ isn’t really that bad in comparison. Not bad at all.
The Chicharones second album “When Pigs Fly” was first picked up by yours truly at a record store in Madrid, the capital of Spain, where it had a prominent place in the racks. It was originally distributed a full year ago, but has made it to the European record stores not until recently. If you consider the origin of “When Pigs Fly” being Vancouver, this success on the European side of the ocean may come as a surprise. Since the two Canadian MC’s ignored the climate reputation of their home country, they managed to concoct a sound that fits into place in a city where people like their tequila shots and all night partying.
Musically, “When Pigs Fly” is all about Latin spirits. Rolling drums, Spanish guitar solos and sweaty Cuban nightclub piano sessions are the ingredients of one of the most spicy flavoured hip-hop records I have heard this year, even though it is last year’s. But where does this pair of coldskinned, warmblooded MC’s originate from?
Josh Martinez has been trying like hell to make his way out of the dark Canadian underground into the sunnier parts of the world. Instead of working on his street credibility, Martinez poses on his website wearing a Hawaiian shirt and carrying a yellow plastic guitar. He started his own record label (Camobear Records), did a world tour, is one of the main members of a self-acclaimed rockband and dropped multiple albums and EP’s in the last couple of years. His snoutfaced compadre Sleep has been slept on (Too easy, I know) a bit more, as he is mostly known as one of the co-founders of the Canadian rap crew Oldominion with some solo releases held under his belt.
The result of the alliance between these Canadian counterparts is a party album with two heads that sound surprisingly alike. Both Josh Martinez and Sleep possess a hoarse voice and a rattling machinegun style of rapping. If their words could have been blurred into mere sound, their voices would have sounded similar to the castanets that are so famous in Spanish guitar music. With that, I immediately come to The Chicharones’ biggest shortcoming: they flow too fast. Especially Sleep can get ahead of himself, and starts throwing too many syllables in one bar. That doesn’t add to the audibility, and can be annoying at times.
In an interview, Sleep admitted that Josh Martinez brings out the “goofy side” in himself, and that is abundantly clear on this album. Written inside the artwork booklet, they state that “When Pigs Fly” is all bout doing the impossible. “It’s also about the ridiculous, the humorous, the subtle, and the obvious. We are only observers. Incredibly sexy, brilliant, innovative sex-machine type observers, but observers non the less.” The duo indeed shows off a party-booze-boobs-hearty flavour, that doesn’t get too complicated anywhere. On the rock-meets-hip-hop anthem “Surf Rock” they boast therefore:
“The Chicharones are so scholastic
Make great songs, and look fantastic
Analog, middle tape, wax or plastic
We focus the dopeness from opus to classic”
On Ring, Ring The Chicharones give the De La Soul classic song “Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” a clever twist, and spit lyrics at each other as if they were conversing over the phone. Over a mellow beat with guitar chords and phone noises they talk about the hectic lives they live, and how they struggle to fit in their social life with their demanding artistic career:
“Ring, ring, somebody calling my phone
Ring, ring, leave a message, nobody’s home
(Martinez) Hey, Sleepy, man how you doing?
Me, I am pretty good
Gotta a couple of questions for you
Do you have a second?
(Sleep) Man, for you I got a few
(Martinez) How’s Brina’s smoking zeph
(Martinez) Who’s sleeping on your floor, your couch, and on your spare bed?
(Martinez) So onto business, we need to figure this out
We need to hit the road again, and my money’s running out
How’s your money?
(Sleep) Getting low…
(Martinez) Should we hit the road and tow?
(Sleep) I don’t know, man. I don’t know, I don’t know
(Martinez) See, I love it being home and cooking food, eating good
And getting business done
(Sleep) And sleeping lots!
(Martinez)And maxing out for fun
Hold up, Sleepy, that’s my other line”
“When Pigs Fly” deserves one honourable mention. The porky aliases of Martinez and Sleep have been wonderfully illustrated by artist Dan James, who goes by Ghost Shrimp, a nickname that is just as odd as The Chicharones. His colourful, Ren and Stimpy-like characters, make the artwork a valuable addition to any record collector out there.
This record’s up-tempo rhymes and funky guitar stretches have enough potential to break beyond the constricting boundaries of the underground hip-hop genre. The Chicharones have chosen to go for a more singer/songwriter approach rather than the classical boombap attire, and this gives them a newschool punk rock kind of feel. In my opinion, a song like “Fiesta” could even make it to the Billboard charts with its gypsy king guitar melody and infectious rhythm section. Sometimes Martinez and Sleep adjust their voices to the fast-paced music and make it sound like they are singing instead of just plain MC’ing. The book on “Fiesta” gets closed with an ingenious sample sounding suspiciously like Elvis. With his soothing voice, the Graceland King sings: “The way I walk is the way I walk. The way I talk is the way that I talk. Touch me baby, and I’ll go hog wild.” These animals will probably not get much props from more conservative hip-hop heads, but their combination of Spanish guitars, open beer taps, goofball pranks and summery spirits could get them more acclaim than most hip-hop acts.