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Various Artists

A Blow to the State

A Blow to the State Album Cover

Release Date: 04.08.03
Record label: Coup D'etat
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.


Good "Conscious" Hip-Hop, But not Quite Fun Enough
by: matt cibula

I used to be all about the underground "conscious" hip-hop thing, but it wasn't always like that. When I first started getting into it, back more than 15 years ago, I didn't care what kind of messages or implications it had—I just liked fun songs, big fat beats, and deft and/or scary and/or humorous lyrical skills. But hip-hop became fragmented into different camps in the 90's, and somewhere along the line (like a lot of other white guys) I convinced myself that I had to come down in one camp or another, and I chose to disdain all that "chart rap" "radio-friendly" "bling-bling" stuff.

I thought I was a better person for this, until a very curious thing happened—a hip-hop station sprung up in my area. I started listening to what was on the air, and realized that I was missing a lot of great stuff. Now I'm pretty much all over the place with what I like and listen to and praise in reviews, and I feel a lot better about that.

The best song on this disc from Coup D'Etat Entertainment is exactly about this kind of reconciliation; Akrobatik's "Balance." I had already heard this bangin' joint on his album, which I reviewed for Music-critic a few months ago, but it's very much where I'm feeling right now. In it, Akro talks about finding the in-between place between fun thug stuff and uplifting high-score-on-the-vocabulary-test stuff. It's a great way to start things off here.

If only some of the other acts on Coup D'Etat would heed Akro's advice. I'm not saying this is all choirboy uplift-the-race seriousness; indeed, some of the better acts nail it. Underground legend Rasco busts off a couple of slugs here—the harsh street-life story "Snakes in the Grass (The Jon Sexton Story)" has its heart in the right place AND sounds tough and real, and his "We Get Live" isn't afraid of grit (or swearing) either.

The most uplifting dude in rap, J Live, busts out two distinctly great songs that find that balance too. "How Real It Is" calls out everyone who thinks thug life is glamorous: "Life could take a turn for the worse / And have you switching from the Coupe to the hearse / You better keep this verse / The streets ain't no joke / But man, the sidewalks might get you first." This heroic dude, a schoolteacher in Brooklyn who has finally burst onto the scene, has a tendency to show off a little, but it's all good, especially on "One for the Griot." This hilarious sex-rap has several false endings, all caused by J refusing to take the easy way out; at first, the dude in the song blunders into a murder scenario, but then he gets called on it and redoes the story so it turns into a threesome. (I'm not gonna give away the final ending, though. It's too hilarious.)

And hey, a lot more comps should end with a sixteen-minute "mixtape" where all of the other songs are cobbled together. If you don't have 45 minutes to listen to all 11 songs, just bust up track 12 and hear capsule versions of them all! It's brilliant! It's fun!

But too many artists here ignore the "fun" part, unwisely choosing brain over ass. You might like the oh-I'm-so-clever wordplay of MC Paul Barman, and I guess I can understand that; he's almost as funny as an undisciplined thesaurus-obsessed Eminem, and he's certainly much safer because he's not really talking about anything important. But he works too hard at being wacky, and "Bleeding Brain Grow" just sounds like beating off to me—it stands out on this comp like a sore third nipple. Soul Purpose is okay, I guess, but they sound too indebted to Blackalicious and Latyrx. And Fakts One gets no points for the sickeningly sweet "Life Music," which would be Exhibit A if conscious rap ever went on trial.

I like this comp, but too many beats are the same and a few of these groups need to stop bumping Common and the Roots and start getting down to Ludacris and 50 Cent for real. Mix it up! Live a little! Find the BALANCE! 04-Sep-2003 8:40 AM