The people of the backpack sat in their luxurious suburban caves, and looked with indignant glares at the hilltop mansions of the people of the thug on the other side of town. The people of the thug tugged at their gold chains menacingly, and snarled at their subterranean opponents with cold superiority.
Can it all be so black and white? Is there a dedicated community that just listens to the underground backpacker MC’s? Is there another group of people that just likes to listen to the bragging and boasting thuggery without even noticing the underground community? The Las Vegas-based DJ Five & Pizzo sure think it isn’t like that. With their “Backpack Thugs 2005 Megamix” they want to prove that backpack beats mix well with thuggish punchlines, and underground wordplay blends in perfectly with beats made for the club.
The idea of this theme mixtape is as original as they come, and the sound of Mike Jones busting rhymes over a Gorillaz song will definitely get quite a few eyebrows raised. In the jewel case booklet Five and Pizzo mention that they wanted to “pick two drastically different artists from two different sub-genres of hip-hop music, and mix them together.” Pizzo adds to that: “The idea was to create some unity by getting people to pay attention to the artists they don’t normally listen to, by tricking them.”
When you listen to the first track, you might get the suggestion that this United Nations worthy idea of creating unity has a chance of succeeding. The Game’s irregular dark voice sounds quite well when he does his lines over the Kanye West production “The Corner,” that can originally be found on Common’s album “Be.” But when Chi City’s Godfather steps up to do the verses that are supposed to be on the previous song over a Blueprint beat it starts to get unclear who is the more commercial artist, and who is the real underground artist here. Doesn’t Common get just as much respect in the caves as in the mansions?
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but if you are going for such a radical theme you should stick to it all the way if you want to avoid creating just another freak show. It is one thing to take drastically different artists, but it is another thing entirely to make them sound well together. Blueprint’s organs and guitars do not go well together with Common’s intense, warm tone-of-voice, and it makes him sound strained. There are a lot more of examples of these mismatches to be found on Five and Pizzo’s dark lab experiment. Edan rush hour flow is just not cut out to be put in the same cage as the Ying Yang Twinz pumping bass lines. Murs and Slug will probably throw a fit if they found they had a prom date with Gwen Stefani’s ‘Holler Back Girl,’ and the two DJ’s pitched Mr. Lif’s quirky voice just a bit too much when they threw The Perceptionists into a pool of Young Jeezy juicy melodies.
That doesn’t mean at all that there is no material on this disc to be enjoyed. Five & Pizzo obviously think Atmosphere is the epiphany of a backpacker group, and they used Slug’s insightful rants extensively. The MC from Minnesota sounds like a million bucks in combination with Amerie’s billboard hit ‘1 Thing,’ and so does Alex the Worm King AKA Cage when he does his macabre magic over a 50 Cent production. So there IS some chemistry between the people of the backpack and the people of the thug, but I doubt it is enough to get them to cross town to do some mixing. I sure hope though, that DJ Five and Pizzo keep on doing a bit of mixing of their own, because these are a couple of creative minds behind this project with a lot of talent for the future.