Strange Fruit Project is a group facing great expectations, and these high hopes come from a myriad of sources. For one, their latest album is called “The Healing,” which implies that their soulful brand of southern hip-hop is meant to help fans forget about the beef-driven mentality of rap today. This album comes on the heels of two previous underground releases from 2004 that solidified the group as one to be looked out for. Their future has been so hyped that URB Magazine honored them as being one of their “Next 100.” Well, the future is now for the Waco, Texas-based trio. With an inspiring blend of gospel-themed rhymes and a palette of organic, well-crafted beats, Strange Fruit Project lives up to the buzz they rightfully earned and complete an album that will go down as one of 2006’s best.
The group, composed of emcees S1, Myth, and Myone, resembles Little Brother in their musical approach as well as the overall vibe the listener gets from their music. Both groups take it back to the boom-bap era, emphasizing a balance of keen lyrics and head-nodding beats. Strange Fruit Project lacks the verbal edge that is exuded from LB’s lyrics, along with the obvious fact that 9th Wonder isn’t their in-house producer. SFP does bring a more organic sound to their records. They are capable of harmonically sung choruses and tend to eschew too much sampling in favor of using instruments like the guitar and piano.
This down-home sound works wonders on tracks like the lead single “Soul Clap,” which features a wicked guitar lick that could bring either a Sunday service or a Friday night dance party to life. All three emcees represent here and spit lines about overcoming life’s challenges, which are rare words to hear on a beat that’s a certified banger. Songs like these make this mature group of artists stand out, because they’ll rap about what they believe in even in the midst of a potential radio hit.
This same approach serves them well on some tracks that could have easily been filler if not for their unique musical sense. “Good Times” is saved from becoming a knock-off Trackmasters beat if not for the added instruments that helped bring an authentic and unique Latin-dance sound, like the congo and even some strings. “Under Pressure” could have become a boring, woe-is-me clunker, but the bland beat is rescued by some thought-provoking jewels by Myone:
“Another deadline, another bill to pay
I feel this way
But then again it never ends
The voices in my head are pretending to be friends
While I’m trying to find a way to right my sins”
Not even the Southern charm of these admirable artists can erase the few missteps they do make. “Pinball” is the album’s first mistake, which is a shame considering the song’s concept was unique and the group came up with respectable verses. The minimalist beat is out of place in a record of layered, polyphonic instrumentals. An awkward-sounding, techno-influenced piano riff is the main cog within a sparse instrumental that conjures horrible flashbacks of D4L’s “Laffy Taffy.”
“Cali Cruisin” is an inexplicable ode to the great state of California. There is absolutely no reason that this song should be on the album. The rhymes are sub par, even from guest rappers Deloach and Bavu, and the beat is a generic rehash of a Dr. Dre production. It’s basically SFP’s stale remake of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back To Cali,” only they lack the bravado to pull it off. The song ruins the album’s flow because the group sounds so out of place. Three dudes from Texas who’ve been spitting some uplifting material throughout the first part of their album should not suddenly glorify the vices and thrills of a city half-a-continent away. If “Pinball” knocked SFP’s ship a bit off course, “Cali Cruisin” turns the vessel in an entirely wrong direction.
The collective does right the ship back on course, however, and closes things out by taking em’ straight to church. “Parachutes” builds momentum for the album’s finale by reminding listeners on the chorus that “It feels good to know that though you’re falling down, you’re gonna land on your feet.” All three members come through with stellar stanzas, and Thesis nearly steals the spotlight by singing her heart out on the chorus and bridge. S1’s verse is a true highlight because of the humanity he displays:
“Used to be blind, but a brother found sight
At the end of the tunnel
Yo, we gotta stay humble
Never will I stumble
Make a bad decision and watch it all crumble
Shed a tear
The end is near
Yo, I never did drugs
And I never drank beers
So, say word, never been a rich man…
Forget what cha’ heard
We all got a sickness
Beautiful women, yo how can I resist this?
Statin’ the word, another victim fallin
23 shots, another angel callin”
The album’s climax is capped off by “God Is,” which features the heavenly vocals of Justus Leaguer Darien Brockington. His D’Angelo-esque performance adds to the light-hearted atmosphere created by the harp and violins on the instrumental. Meanwhile, SFP refuses to preach to their listeners, instead offering detailed accounts of their relationship with God. The Healing is completed as they pour their spiritual dimensions on wax for all to hear and take encouragement from.
With this glorious LP, Strange Fruit Project now stands among the underground’s elite. It’s a shame that this record hasn’t reached the masses, because The Healing is not only an enjoyable trip outside of the world but is also a piece of armor meant to help people cope with our realities. It’s not a classic record, but the messages they convey almost erase the faults the group is guilty of. SFP may not have reached technical perfection on this release, but a classic LP will be on the horizon as long as they maintain this level of subject matter and content.