Most people will vaguely remember a rapper with an obvious obsession for female body parts when they hear the words ‘Seattle’ and ‘rap’ in one sentence. Sir Mix-A-Lot has been representing Seatown with simple rhymes and clever arguments for over 10 years. With his mainstream fame gone down the drain the chair for national Seattle representative is up for grabs. Even though all over this hip-hop nation ‘independent’s days’ have been proclaimed, Seattle hasn’t really been able to imprint itself in the nation’s mind as a hip-hop spot to watch. But since hip-hop is worldwide, you can bet they have something going on up there. At the end of last year, Blak and Jace, two underground heads, served up their debut album, “Soul Liquor”. Makes for an interesting title, the more so as you consider the crew’s name: the Silent Lambs Project. But names and titles do not make a convincing product, it takes a little bit more than that.
From a cursory listen it’s clear where this crew comes from: they belong to the once endangered but now expanding species of rappers who see rap as a means of expression, not one to make money, who express what they feel, not what the public wants to hear. In return they demand an audience who is willing to decipher their mode of communication. But such a challenge can quickly turn into a trial. If your vocal performances sound like they have been recorded in the middle of the night in one take with little to no preparation, you’re bound to turn a few heads off. But you also might have some heads turning when you have interesting things to say. Unfortunately those are hard to make out in SLPs stream of consciousness flow.
Quoting Rakim under such circumstances is very ill-advised. They still do it though, in “Too Many Lines”, with a line from Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody”. And I don’t think they talk about themselves when they point out “blurs and slurs and words that don’t fit”. I can’t help but quote the following bars Rakim spit after that line: “Why waste time on the microphone / I take this more serious than just a poem”. SLP lacks in exactly that department. To their credit it has to be acknowledged that not everybody understood what this Rakim guy was about when he came out in ’86, and he’s now generally considered one of the greatest of all time. The possibilities that SLP might once reach such status are small indeed, but it is definitely possible that they are ahead of their time. In a time when pop and hip-hop are merging into one heavy lump of sparkling keyboard chords and beefy beats, it’s good to see someone take a different route. A route they not only take because they lack the production capabilities and facilities to run with the big dogs. If hip-hop wants to remain a unique artform, it has to find ways of expression off the mainstream. That’s why I dig Mr. Hills’s production for “Public Eye,” which gives you the sensation like you just entered a spooky old house, or Bean One’s “Too Many Lines” with its slightly off-kilter merry-go-round melody or the ill combination of calming bassline and nerve-wrecking violins in King Otto’s “Rap Psychiatrist”. With “The Bagg” the latter even gets funky with it, even if, so it appears, only by accident: sounds like someone taking piano lessons incidentially hit some funky notes while playing around. Add to that a rhythm section consisting of some funked up bass slaps and percussion instead of beats and have the MC’s rhyme about weed and you have a familiar yet original cut.
But apart from those few highlights “Soul Liquor” just makes you drowsy from too much static noise and disjointed sound collages that like the MC’s who rap over them still need a lot of work. So that songs like “Rap Message”, “Vintage” or “Rap Psychiatrist” can live up to their promising titles. Only then SLP will be able to turn this ‘house of dispresct’ that hip-hop has become into a “House of Respect”.