For a crew that still looks forward to its first nationally distributed album, the Custom Made guys are already prominently featured on this site. Within a one year span, Tom Doggett reviewed their local “L.A. State of Mind” freshman effort and the demotape days retrospective “Pillow Talk” in ’04 and ’05. Then just a couple of weeks ago, Jordan Selbo previewed the aforementioned upcoming debut on Babygrande. Before I learned of the latter, I would’ve told Custom Made that they weren’t goin’ nowhere with that shit. The release of “Sidewalk Mindtalk: The Best of the Custom Made Mixtapes” would have evidently proven me wrong. So much for my expertise. Still, here are my two cents…

Giving this year’s “Blackboard Jungle” mix-CD a second chance, I have to attest Custom Made a knack for good old mystifying, murderous lyrical mayhem. Partially I have to yield to the previous reviewers who said nice things like ‘Custom Made is not to be taken lightly,’ ‘With comparisons to similar crews such as Jedi Mind Tricks and Mobb Deep, they expectedly deliver solid material over even more solid beats,’ and ‘If you want to hear hip-hop done right, look no further.’ Indeed Custom Made are likely to feel comfortable at Babygrande, their music sharing the existentialist angst and crazy antics of albums like Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Legacy of Blood,” Jus Allah’s “All Fates Have Changed,” or Outerspace’s “Blood and Ashes.” It doesn’t take “Street Cinema Vol. 3” long to evoke these comparisons, as the first cut goes straight for the throat: “Turnin’ your flesh to ashes / before your chest becomes a nest for maggots / you lack this, you need to invest and practise / confess the madness / like fuckin’ St. Agnes / on a blood-stained mattress / in front of Christians and Catholics.”

I will probably burn in hell for not taking offense to the verbal desecration of poor St. Agnes while I complain about a minor logical inconsistency in the above line, but there’s no way around it in order to expose Custom Made’s weak spots – Catholics ARE Christians, so it really makes no sense to mention Christians AND Catholics in the same breath, unless you’d say Catholics AND OTHER Christians. This is just one example of many where Custom Made, eager to conquer with eloquence, opt for the wrong choice of words, or just simply stumble over an incomplete syntax. Furthermore suffering from a sometimes unclear diction, their rhyming escapades become difficult to follow. In their attempt to “piss in that mainstream of lyrics,” Custom Made tend to get lost in their own labyrinthine lyricism.

Such inconsistencies would be easily forgiven if Sinister Six, Bluff, Element and Skandalous Scoobs would be able to counterbalance them with great flows, songs, beats, or bucketloads of magnetic charisma. Unfortunately, none of them possesses an imposing presence, none of them rides the beat with brilliance, the beats always take a backseat to the rhymes, and proper songwriting is not yet on their agenda. What speaks for them is the emotion they put into it, their energetic speaking-in-tongues steez. Lyrically, every now and then their dark vision of the world focuses in on today’s urban reality. As Scoobs spits on “I Get Busy”:

“It ain’t nothin’ for us to commit sins
cause life don’t make sense
till you seen your homie’s wig pushed in
And when your friends get hit
that let you know your life ain’t shit
Cause cats on that senseless tip
My whole life got a senseless grip”

Occasionally, the Los Angelinos even relate facts about their artistic life. Element drops a dope quotable during “M.I.Aneek”:

“I remember in retrospect
5th grade sittin’ at my desk
makin’ a instrumental
just by usin’ my pencil
and we would rap to it
Teacher labelled us bad students
for expressin’ black music”

But despite Bluff’s touching revelation that “rap ain’t somethin’ a nigga wanna battle about,” Custom Made’s repertoire on “The Blackboard Jungle” consists mostly of battle raps that too often resort to violence:

“I cause commotions like break-ups that fuck with emotions
when I get out of control with violence like spiraling cokeheads
A Custom Made ritualĀ 
is havin’ an icicle stabbed through your visual peripheral”

Custom Made is not your typical West Coast collective (“They say we ain’t LA / only underground niggas would spend nights in graves”). And they’re not out to make friends (“Trust your neighbor? Hell no, bust at your neighbor”). That doesn’t mean there’s no audience for their brand of paranoia-ridden hip-hop. Musically, however, the first half of this mix-CD is pretty much a lost cause, lining up unfinished beat after unfinished beat. Only from track eleven on the beats begin to shape up, attaining a somewhat professional standard with tracks like “’06 Vine,” “Welcome Home,” “End of the Era,” “For the Fortune,” “Keys” and “Solo Gofo.” All criticism aside, though, if you go for dark, desperate-yet-determined, doomsday-type music with pensive bits percolating through raw, unrefined beats accompagnied by relentless, remorseless rhymes free of stereotypical drug-slangin’ and gang-bangin’, “Street Cinema Vol. 3” is an option, and if you’ve come to trust Babygrande, go cop that best of when it drops. While I’m hoping for Custom Made that the best is yet to come.

Custom Made :: Street Cinema Vol. 3: The Blackboard Jungle
5.5Overall Score