With the coke rap era having reached its apex with “Thug Motivation 101” and being swiftly ushered out of mainstream relevance along with Rick Ross (I’ll resist from making any cop jokes), it’s somewhat peculiar to hear a hip hop group dedicated to the marijuana trade enough to name their mixtape “Herb N’ Development,” accentuated by the CD cover art that is a weed-laced grinder. It’s not that weed isn’t in vogue, but rather that it’s so ordinary that it seems no one bothers to boast about it anymore. So it’s not surprising that Housing Authority are as harmless of “street” rappers you can come by.
But what is street rap anyway, other than a label to certify an artist’s authenticity of poverty? Housing Development, comprised of New York emcees Face Off and Mic Duela (who also dabbles in producing), don’t really make any attempt to seem excessively “real,” but rather spend the entire mixtape trying to come up with the cleverest wordplay (e.g. “they mega bite we just working on gigs”) while rapping over mostly borrowed, sometimes surprising beats.
The “Grind Tape,” as the cover’s subtitle announces, starts off promisingly with “Steerin’ Will’s Jada.” Mic Duela seems the better rapper of the two (if only slightly) and his somewhat unconventional flow sounds quite good over J Dilla’s “Nothing Like This”:
“Boy in the hood, man in the suit
To NYPD, just another man they can shoot
He survive, he’s shown cells, he die, he Sean Bell
The cops are goin’ hell and rot, who gon’ tell me NOT
To say the way that I feel, house niggas just stay outta my field”
Coupled with Face Off’s solid verse, it’s an impressive early track and (unfortunately, I suppose) one of the best moments on the tape. As with many mixtapes, a lot of what makes this work is the excellent production, most of which isn’t their own. Sure, it’s fun to hear Duela and Face Off rap to Jake One’s “The Truth” and Bink’s “You, Me, Him and Her,” but do they improve upon or diverge from the originals? No, they don’t, and that’s a necessity when recording over someone else’s music. And then there’s the occasional misstep in beat choices, such as the consciously disposable “Fuck U Girl” (Robin Thicke’s “I Wanna Love You Girl”) and “Swagger Like Housin’,” which is somehow blander than you might imagine.
It’s really a shame Housing Authority didn’t depend on Mic Duela’s beats a bit more, as both “Vice City” and “Take a Picture, Nigga!” are successfully soulful production. Neither of the rappers are yet capable to make must-hear recreations of Jay-Z or Brother Ali tracks, so I’m hoping the next grind tape will take “Vice City”, rather than “Fuck U Girl,” as its point of departure.