When Nas stated that “Hip Hop Is Dead,” there really should have been an asterisk next to the title: “Hip Hop Is Dead*” (* underground hip hop not included). If anything, the last six years have provided not only a wealth of extremely strong underground records, it has also given an IDENTITY to many a group that were (to be brutally honest) rapping with their heads up their asses. Even now, I personally find it extremely tiring when some average group, with apparent hearts of gold, decides to put their Samaritan Starter cap on and “save” hip hop (through average beats, concepts and lyrics). The less preachy artists that lead by example by just being DOPE tend to be the ones with more genuine fan bases. In other words, it is alright to state that you are the “realest” and even the “best” – just don’t become too didactic in every line you spit. Perhaps this is why Skillz never made it that big – it feels like you are back at school listening to him preaching.
Speaking of the education system, the Brooklyn Academy are precisely the kind of group that lead by example – even if they occasionally get on their soapbox to lambast wack rappers, they don’t get carried away with it. What is thoroughly surprising about their latest effort, “Bored of Education” (nice title), is how balanced it feels. Usually, underground groups of their ilk (for example, Army of Pharaohs) know how to make hard, testosterone-fuelled music. And that is the main aim – forget choruses and all that shit, just go HARD. But Brooklyn Academy have developed their steez and listen to the (long) album once, and many of the melodies will stick. After your second listen, the singsong choruses should start to indent themselves in your grey matter.
As for the MC’s, the quality level never drops. Block McCloud, Pumpkinhead and Mr. Metaphor rip every track to shreds with relative ease, whilst adapting to the concept at hand. It is an intense listen and, to be honest, the eight times I’ve listened to it haven’t come close to scratching the surface of lyrical depth – especially as the melodic beats and hypnotic choruses have pleasantly surprised me. As far as general subject matter goes, they clearly don’t feel confined by expectation – “Weight Liftin'” is a relatively simple weed-dressed-up-as-fine-chica anthem, transformed by a stunning chorus and an almost bashment-type beat (I’ll never forget “Feel the weight of the world lifting when I’m blazing you, girl” till the day I die). They also skit about drinking heavily (alongside the more disgusting after effects) and Killah Priest pops up on the excellent “Splash.” The group is heavily co-signed by the one and only Jean Grae (who’s wicked “Jeanius” finally saw the light of day this summer) and the Jeanial one is on TOP form when called up (see the stunning opener “Raise Ya Hands”). In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her flow and (more importantly) voice sound as good as it does on “Bored of Education.” It seems that she is priming herself for an assault, and may well be ready to step up to another level.
The first half of the album is particularly strong, with tracks like the aforementioned “Raise Ya Hands” and wonderful “We Don’t Play” setting an atmospheric tone for the upcoming seventy odd minutes – moody but playful. In fact, the lyrics are straightforward enough, and it does sound somewhat like their mission statement of taking it back to when “heads just got up, heard a beat, drank a little beer, wrote and spit.” The beats seem to have moved up a level, favouring multiple layers and intense melody and, when meshed with the excellent choruses, “Bored of Education” ends up being a much more universal album than you might expect. That isn’t to say that you’ll find Block, Pumpkinhead or Mr. Metaphor producing covers of “I Need Love” every third track – it simply lends a helping hand in getting the music cemented in your head. That is a lesson that many fledgling underground groups could learn from this album. In fact, if there is one slight niggle about the LP, perhaps there could have been some more intensely personal content – however, rap groups tend to find this more difficult (due to shared responsibilities) and, in fairness, it isn’t really on the cards at any point.
This is underground hip hop at a higher level of education – beyond the usual high-school dance crazes and PhD’s. The strong choruses make it even more accessible – and even if the emotional content isn’t particularly high, that isn’t what they are aiming for (it would be like criticizing a boxer for not apologising every time he hits his opponent). The beats are consistent almost all of the way through – no mean feat on a seventy minute epic – and the lyrics were always going to be excellent. Perhaps there could have been a couple of bigger records that stand out a touch more, but that may well have detracted from the overall consistency of the LP, and the mood created here is probably just fine as it is. Everyone continually fears for commercial hip hop – and with good reason, too – but make no mistake, underground rap is alive and well. Brooklyn Academy are definitely sailing through the curriculum with ease, and “Bored of Education” is an essential purchase for underground hip hop fans, and damn close to classic.