Okay I admit it – AJ x Nedarb got me with the “System of a Frown” title. I’ve quietly been a System of a Down fan for a while now, but when you’ve got a website that is 98% focused on hip-hop (we can split the other 2% between R&B and reggae) there’s just no place to review SOAD. I think it can be argued that Serj Tankian is rapping at times on a few tracks (“Chop Suey” and “B.Y.O.B.” come to mind) but that’s not really what the group is about — they’re hard rock, metal or maybe even alternative. Anyway this trick is only going to work once. The next hip-hop group that parodies SOAD with an album title won’t get an automatic download. Also there’s nothing wrong with the name Braden Morgan, so there’s no real need to flip it backwards to look cool. It actually becomes incredibly awful to say backwards. “Braden” rolls off the tongue but “KNEE-DARB” sounds like you caught an insect in your mouth riding a motorcycle with the helmet off (don’t do that even if you don’t cough up a kneedarb from your throat).
What you need to know here is that AJ Suede is the rapper and Nedarb is the producer, and that the duo believe they create “an outerworldly experience complete with space age production and lyrically dense ignorance” together. I was all about their self-description until the last three words. I believe that being lyrically dense (a la Gift of Gab) is the polar opposite of being lyrically ignorant (a la Gillie Da Kid). The two just don’t relate at all. It’s apparent the group is trying to fit into a post-Odd Future world though — embracing contradictions and hoping they make sense together — even starting a FRMNDS Collective which will apparently be expanded upon to include a group of friends, family and freaks. Even the album cover for “System of a Frown” implies a Tyler the Creator vibe, as do song titles like “Grunge Lord II” and “Bleeding Drugs.”
If that’s not what AJ and Nedarb were going for then I apologize for getting their steez completely wrong. It’s certainly not meant as a negative though – I appreciate the OF vibe and in particular Tyler’s creativity, although his intentionally offensive slurs occasionally go too far. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to be the new Odd Future, where every member has a talent and a solo album, but the comparison ends right here. I don’t know who the rest of the FRMNDS are and whether or not they are more or less talented than AJ and Nedarb. After listening to the album several times I’m pretty sure that Nedarb goes by Ned (that’s better) and that AJ isn’t really close to any member of Wolf Gang lyrically. Matt Martians doesn’t even rap and could probably battle Suede successfully.
“I just finished smokin but I’m tryin to smoke again
Tryin to make sure I’m never goin broke again
Got a small circle didn’t need a lot of friends
Not a lot of souls that I trust or can depend
Still low key, hella smoke around me
Dry sense of humor you can joke around me
DC Comics is the motherf—in best
F— Marvel Comics cause those niggaz ain’t s–t”
Now we’re not talking Gillie or Gucci levels of terrible here, but it bothers me that AJ tried so hard to force a rhyme for “friend” and “depend” and ended up dropping the obvious “on” to make it work. It’s left dangling in the air at the end of that bar. Maybe “Don’t know many people on which I can depend” wouldn’t have bothered me, but he didn’t try. Speaking of not trying on the last two bars he went on a completely random rant that had nothing to do with anything else. I halfway agree with him (I don’t think Marvel sucks but I do think people crap on DC way too much) but where is this dry sense of humor he claims to have? If you claim it, go ahead and spit a bar that reflects it. At least give us some Hugh Laurie level sarcasm or an Aubrey Plaza deadpan delivery. Nope – he just decides to s–t on Marvel Comics for whatever reason. I guess that’s the best we can expect from “Joints Like Cigarettes.” Perhaps the title’s apt.
I’m really stuck trying to figure out what AJ is about though. He keeps punctuating every other bar of “On the Grind” with an unnecessary “know what I mean?” when it’s not clear what he means at all. He compares himself to “UK grime” and sounds nothing like it. The old school background suggests a “back in the day” reminscing type of track but the song only hints at it with “remember coming up on the block reading every gang sign” but never follows up on it. Let me give AJ the credit he’s due – he has clearly practiced the craft of rapping enough to flow effectively. He can keep the beat and he spits his vocals clearly without slurring or mashing up his words. The problem is he doesn’t say anything that I care about. “I’m the champ I gotta keep the belt.” Since when? You’re new on the scene. Who gave you a title, and who have you had to defend it against? Nothing he’s saying is that clever, that enticing, or that stylish. When he raps “I think I might have said enough” I can’t helpt but agree.
I had high expectations for “System of a Frown” but AJ x Nedarb just can’t deliver on them. Nothing about them is so terrible that I feel like they need to be totally dumped on, but nothing about them is so fantastic that I needed this many paragraphs to tell you about them. They are absolutely completely “meh” in every sense of the word.