Having received and reviewed promo material from Long Range Distribution in the past, I’ve spent significant time perusing their website and must admit that it’s fascinating. A Detroit-based music distributor, Long Range markets albums by literally hundreds of rappers, most of whom, based on their album covers, fall into one of a few categories: deranged horrorcore artists, the most generic-looking gangsta rappers imaginable, juggalos in full makeup, and goateed white guys sporting jerseys and bandanas. While many come from Detroit, others come from such non-traditional hip hop hotbeds as Toledo, Denver, Wichita, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Ontario. While it’s a bizarre sight to behold, it’s also quite eye-opening; it’s both hilarious and depressing to consider that so many odd artists from middle American cities believe they can make legitimate livings as rappers. Still, they have the same sort of mysterious appeal that some of the more obscure No Limit albums did in that they look so soulless, derivative, and downright bad that you want to hear them.

So far as I can tell, the “2009 Sampler” offers a taste of a wide range of their rap offerings. The MCs featured come from across the map and represent various subgenres of underground hip hop. There are 19 tracks almost fully exhausting the 80-minute format of the compact disc and each features a different artist. Although I don’t have any production credits, the beats are generally good if not unforgettable. There’s good sound quality and well-arranged production, so most if any shortcomings are on the part of the rappers themselves. The first half is more gangsta rap oriented, while the latter half features the darker horrorcore artists.

First, the bad. Detroit rapper Vinnie Stacks’ “Get Stacks” sounds like a bad imitation of a Tony Yayo song. Despite being conceptually imitative and lyrically bankrupt, gangsta rappers like Yayo are endeared by at least subsets of the rap-listening population because they have a unique swagger or tongue-in-cheek humor. Apparently Vinnie Stacks never got the memo, because he’s so generic it sounds like a parody. Although the lifestyle of a gangster can and often is interesting to entertain, he desperately needs to offer something new because it’s been so overdone before. Here’s the hook:

“Ballin’ ain’t a game, out here we gettin’ the change
Hustlin’ on the block, we always makin’ it rain
And we ridin’ them ‘Lacs, plus we pushin’ them packs
Down there they just rap, in my city we get stacks
And we rockin’ them frames ’cause money just ain’t a thang
Ladies pushin’ them Range, the haters keep lookin’ strange
In my city we stay strapped, put hustlin’ on the map
We whip it and bring it back in the D, we get stacks”

Mann’s “In the Hood” featuring Truth and Big Herk is also about as unimaginative as it gets, and whoever raps the second verse is laughably inept. Mr. Y.U.G. sounds like he wrote the uninspired “G-Walk” in his sleep. It should be noted that the Madd Kapp who performs “Kapp Man” is not the Mad Kap who dropped “Look Ma Duke, No Hands” in 1993. And now, the good. Betrayl’s “Deceased Thugz” sounds like a mid-90s song from Nas, AZ, Cormega, or Mobb Deep with a soulful, nostalgic beat complete with vocal samples and horn cadences. It’s hard to believe Betrayl hails from the working-class burg of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and not Queensbridge. While it’s by no means original, it is well executed. Detroit’s The Regiment lace a funky, reminiscing track with rhymes paying homage to legendary rappers on “Old Skool Vibe.” Aslaam Mahdi’s “Bibliography” appropriately sounds like a Tragedy Khadafi song, albeit one recorded at least fifteen years ago. New Haven, Connecticut’s Mr. Freeze evokes Beanie Sigel over a dramatic chipmunk soul track on “Hold On (To Your Receipt),” and Artfull Dodgers’ “Bait Shop Boogie” features an instrumental with a sweet funk guitar lick. Resa P’s “For the Four” features El da Sensei and Finale and is solid alternative boom bap fare. One of the more interesting tracks is Clockworx’s “Robots,” which advocates free thought over a tasteful acoustic line, and S.U.N.’s “Yo Love” is good.

The problem even on the better songs is that most of the positive vibes come from the music and not the performers. Anchored by strong beats, the MCs tend to imitate already-well established sounds with insubstantial lyricism. I haven’t mentioned most of the other tracks simply because they aren’t worth mentioning; while neither exceptionally good nor bad, they provide neither lyrical nor musical substance that bears much remembrance as soon as the next song starts.

It’s interesting to listen to the one-track snapshots on this sampler because they’re so universal—any of these guys could be the struggling local artist from your city looking for a break even if it means attracting a bizarre cult following. I don’t imagine that this sampler is even available for retail, at least not at any reasonable extent, but when record labels send this sort of promo material I suppose they do so to have it assessed. My assessment is that Long Range is a peculiar niche distributor catering to a small audience and mostly local artists who want their music pressed. It offers a glance at the type of rap most of us rarely consider, but most of the music is as predictable and uninspired as it looks. However, it’s an intriguing if not just strange assortment of styles, and there are some compelling artists and some genuinely quality hip hop to be found among their mostly mediocre material.

Various Artists :: Long Range Distribution 2009 Sampler [promo]
5Overall Score