Is there any greater testament to the power of hip hop than its continued ascendance in distant lands? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then this culture created and perfected in America’s most forsaken districts is one of the most revered commodities in existence as it earns new devotees almost weekly in different countries across the globe. And if the newest release from the Crate Cartel crew is any indication, the future of the art is in good hands whether in our own great nation or any other.
From the limited research I’ve done, it seems that artists from outside the U.S. have better success bridging the MC/producer gap, and Geko proves himself worthy of both titles here. An up-and-comer in the Australian scene, Geko has already begun making a name for himself behind the boards, and “The Crate Cartel” is his first attempt at proving his worth behind the mic as well.
In listening to rap albums from foreign lands, I’m always amused and intrigued by the particular influences that shape a given artist’s work. For domestic hip hop acts, it’s usually a pretty straightforward correlation: an L.A. cat is going to have that West Coast vibe; someone from the ATL is likely to bring that Dirty South bump; and an MC from the East will probably have some lo-fi boom-bap. These are trends rather than absolutes, but even the deviations prove the rule, as when you hear something like, “He’s from L.A., but he has an East Coast flow.” Being from a far-away country frees artists from many of these geographic constraints, making it anyone’s guess what direction their music will take.
Don’t ask me why, but the Wu-Tang Clan would not have been my first guess as a musical antecedent to this Australian’s work, but it is readily apparent upon listening to “The Crate Cartel.” The sound is a bit cleaner than your typical RZA or Mathematics track, but Geko employs the same sinister loops whose simplicity produces a hypnotic effect that sucks you in. “My Time Pt. 2” is a lesson in understated power with its single-note bassline and haunting vocal sample, which meld to create a Shaolin synergy the Staten Island boys could easily rock over. “The War” sounds more like JMT’s Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind, from the eerie harpsichords to the ominous sped-up chanting in the background, and “Check the Geknique” could be DJ Muggs after his Wu-Tang internship. “The Blood” featuring Luke Mac continues in a similar vein, once again settling comfortably in Jedi Mind territory, and Geko sets it off nicely with some battle type lyrics:
“It’s profound, definite, I step in with my own sound
Then go about gettin’ it, just reppin’ in my hometown
Your whole ship’s jettisoned, as reticent to throwin’ down
Like the HMS Pennington, the remnants were not found
I got down malevolent, spit devils in my pronoun
So natural with the penmanship but it’s evident I flow now
I throw down the pro sound, my know-how know no bounds
I throw towns a phantasm and float around in a smokin’ gown
Or in a broken-down whip, tokin’ down spliffs
Kids is open now off the potent shit I’m quotin’ now
It’s over now, you ain’t need no soap or towel”
I can’t promise I got every one of those words right, as the accent is something I’m not entirely familiar with, but the delivery itself goes down smooth even when you can’t catch every nuance.
The accent itself is always something to contend with for us international neonates in the U.S., but with some semblance of an open mind it shouldn’t be a problem. Geko doesn’t overdo it, but he also doesn’t shy away from it, making it feel like genuine expression rather than cultural gimmick. If you can stomach Dizzee Rascal, then this should be no problem for you.
Like his Cockney counterpart, Geko uses his ample personality as the music’s motivating factor, and it works quite well. His energy is felt in the dark instrumentals, the animated flow, and the ability to slip in the occasional deeper point. Because while Geko spends most of his time doing the Vinnie Paz thing, spitting braggadocio laced with apocalyptic undertones, he also finds time to muse about endurance in the face of his own limitations (“This Is It”), youthful anguish and its violent outcome (“Suicide Kings”), and even the absurdity of religious extremism in all its forms (“My Time Pt. 2” featuring Raven). This diversity, however limited, gives Geko enough of that added dimension to make him seem like a fully formed figure who looms behind the music. And it is his presence in all the details that makes a work so reminiscent of his forebears’ distinctly his own. I guess we’re outsourcing everything now.