Bigg Jus made his name as a third of seminal New York underground hip-hop act Company Flow, rapping alongside El-P and Mr. Len. That group pioneered new territory in the 90s, making rap music that didn’t conform to the commercial or independent rap of the day. They weren’t jiggy, gangsta, bohemian, or conscious. Their beats, rhymes, and vibe were unique, a mixture of New York battle rap with a large dose of weirdness. Company Flow fell apart in 2001, although the group has threatened to record a new album and reunited for a few live shows. El-P went on to found Def Jux, do successful production work for Cannibal Ox, Killer Mike and others, and release three highly acclaimed solo albums.  Jus also founded his own label, Sub Verse Music, and released several solo albums and two albums with Orko Elohiem as NMS. Both El-P and Bigg Jus are releasing their latest albums just two weeks apart. I’m not sure if it was intentional on Jus’s part to put out a record so close to his former partner, but given that El-P was on a version of “Black Rose,” the first single from the album, it’s probable that Jus was aware when El-P’s record was dropping. Either way, it’s hard to listen to “Machines That Make Civilization Fun” without comparing it to El-P’s “Cancer 4 Cure.”

Both El-P and Bigg Jus have centered their careers on making different variations on the noisy, post-apocalyptic rap that they started with Company Flow. Jus has gone in a more politicized direction than El-P, and he continues that trend on “Machines.” The album starts with an intro of an authority figure telling a crowd to disperse or face arrest, immediately setting the tone of us against them, the 99% against the 1%. Jus sets out to tackle the Occupy movement, the war on terror, corporate dominance of politics, food, and most aspects of American life, and the privatization and profit motives of the prison industry and the military. That is a lot to take on, and unfortunately Jus doesn’t always do so in a coherent fashion.

Compared to “Machines,” “Cancer 4 Cure” seems positively safe and conservative. Jus is incredibly experimental on this album, coloring far outside the narrow confines of hip-hop. He tries out different sounds, different types of beats, and different ways of rapping. Jus spends a lot of the album ranting and chanting in a monotone, not really on beat at all. “Gameboy Predator” follows a recurring template on the album: Jus lays down a crazy beat with crashing drums and menacing synths, and proceeds to spit non sequiturs about video game violence:

“MQ1A geosynchronous 4 bit
Spitting out a virus
Pixilated avatar rock a morphing ghillie suit DARPA
Om-murderous unblinking Atari
Sega savage general Halo Hailstorm meta 12,000
My Minecraft Metal Gear Solid
Gears of war
Half-life hibachi
Torch through unholy alliance
Splinter Cell bitch ass infidel autopilot
Savage apps for iTouch
And there’s savage application behind that
Red Faction
God of War
Guns of the Patriots
Carbon Azerath tracer rounds
Trace it to the Akkadians
Murk ten civilians for every vengeful librarians”

It sounds more like the rambling of a paranoid schizophrenic than a rap song. The title track is five-plus minutes of rambling chaos. Jus intones over a random drum solos, chanting about vampires. “Polymathmatics (Restore Balance Out Think A Savage Trick)” has a drum n’ bass beat with some of Jus’s craziest rhymes yet:

“Rasta’s mastaba
On the left of the sacu
Ashra’s mantra
Afu Ba Ka Amen Ra
Ursa Maat-Ra Setep En Ra
Ramesu with the Metu Meri Amen
Salute to Ashra Kwesi to Dr. Ben
The Tjati physician at Sakkara
Waset tekkens be the monuments
Djoser antenna dead center of Washington
Antimorph yourself from Asar’s grip that’s palimpsest
Millennium before any thought of Solomon temp Hiram Abiff
Rocking the carpenter’s apron of the initiate
Holy block Madonna
Russia, Poland and the Vatican
Keep Justoleum on stacks in the basement
Deep in the corner next to the statue they keep crated
Beasting on lower vibration call yourself master mason
Acacia tree flower of life architecture
Dark matter melanin”

Jus’s attempts at more traditional hip-hop are much more successful. “Black Roses” has a beat that sounds like a post-apocalyptic New Orleans brass band, with Jus spitting rhymes that almost make sense:

“Black’s law etymologist against the full metal alchemist
Caught between the gravitational pull of two hadron magnets
Ripping apart the periodic table
In search of the God particle
A hideous ecstasy of vindictiveness and famine
Fiendishly synthesizing the human genome sequence
Then smash the frequency
Till it’s stuck in on this bandwidth
Win the Nobel Peace Prize for painting the perfect picture of what man is
Phantom Menace
The latest in Orwellian cameras
Black roses on your casket
Let you know who’s a thorn in your side
Even in the afterlife
Post apocalyte
Death by 1000 paper cuts
Night of the long knives
Where life is cheaper than a dollar store sale at half price
Fukushima rap
Thyroid need potassium iodine
Snow bunnies turn lime green
Nigerian Snow White
Just because you lead a just life and been thoroughly Romanized
Through a false sense of reasoning developed a sense of morality out of a lie
You’ve been tricked
Like a frontside heel flip to nose grind”

What “Machines” most reminded me of, oddly enough, was prog-rock band the Mars Volta’s second album “Francis the Mute,” and weirdo auteur David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.” Both were works by highly individual and experimental artists who had made names for themselves by pushing boundaries. Both were working without outside interference for the first time, and both proved that without a producer standing by to reel them in, their work became self-indulgent, unhinged and incoherent. “Machines” has the same feel of art made by somehow who had no one reining him in, and as a result lost the plot to some extent.

Some critics love Jus’s new direction and have compared “Machines” to Shabbazz Palaces’ excellent “Black Up,” which was another experimental take on hip-hop. To me, however, “Machines” is more often than not a noisy mess. Jus has so many musical and lyrical ideas that he isn’t able to edit them down into something comprehensible. The end result is an album that is as unsuccessful as it is daring.

Bigg Jus :: Machines That Make Civilization Fun
5Overall Score