Repping Tennessee and Chicago, the close-knit collective, with members Walter Lee Younger and B-Lo Brown holding it down as Black Folks Inc. and McGhee, K2 and Paul Vegas as Circa ’94 Beats, have been on a steady come up, with Circa ‘94’s previous record, I Hear Voices and Black Folks Inc’s debut Natty Strong. Together, they have released a collaborative effort in ODE, a showcase of the old-school-inflected production talents of Circa ’94 Beats and the lyrical capabilities of Black Folks Inc. rhyming about the state of Hip Hop, the hustle and women.
From the moment you hit play, you will notice Circa ’94’s fantastic beats. Inspired by hip hop and other popular music from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, the production is engaging and vibrant. Taking cues from legendary producers such as Prince Paul and the Bomb Squad, the crew utilizes a lot of samples and unique aural backdrops. The opening track, “Hustle”, is unlikely, with a fast-paced synth beat which sounds fitting for a training montage of an 80’s flick. “Underground (Live From The Bomb Shelter)” is an explosive and dense sonic collage with a nice drum break and a smattering of samples which sound like something Public Enemy would champion. “She Likeded That” carries an intoxicating and sleazy beat, sashaying like a cheap stripper, perfect for the sex rap by Walter Lee and B-Lo. “Hey Girl” is a solid take on mid-‘90s R&B, and “INSANE (Push The Panic Button!!!)” is claustrophobic, darting around like a caged animal. Circa ’94’s sounds are always captivating, though some may find the variation between sounds a bit puzzling.
Walter Lee and B-Lo’s performances unfortunately don’t reach the same heights as Circa ‘94’s productions, although they do put in an admirable effort and provide some strong performances. “I Will Not Be Denied” is one example—a charged declaration of their fight to be noticed and accepted, as Walter Lee says, “People can’t deny you unless you deny what’s on the inside.” “Damn Danielle” is a tragic tale about a woman Walter Lee was close to, who falls in love with an abusive new man. “Circa ‘94” is a critique of the music industry and how hip hop operates these days, as guest HotSauce gets in: “Same rat race made more simple/listeners more fickle/downhill B.S. trickle/I wear my hat tight and try to climb between the downpour.” But Walter Lee provides the most striking quotable, “They say the devil got a choke hold on multiple rap games and I can see/ admit/I made my contribution but I’m tired of being the problem/I’m looking to be the solution for the soul pollution.“ Things aren’t always serious on the record, as B-Lo lightens the mood with solo tracks “Too Bigg MC” and “Pushing The Broom (Bossman)”, the former poking fun at “mad” rappers with B-Lo acting hard over a mocking, “scary”-sounding synth, and the latter has him ducking a boss out for his blood.
Overall, ODE is a strong record and Circa ’94 Beats has the potential to become a powerhouse production crew, as they craft joints, which can be wild, unpredictable, and very engaging. The only downfalls of ODE are that the excellent beats tend to grab your attention more than the rhymes, as Circa ’94’s terrific work steals the thunder from B-Lo and Walter Lee. Black Folks Inc. brings some solid rhymes, but tend to get lost in the awesome mix from time to time. Overall, ODE is definitely worth a spin, and these guys are certainly not to be denied.
Underground (Live From The Bomb Shelter)[audio:http://kevinnottingham.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/02-Underground-Live-From-The-Bomb-S.mp3]
I Will Not Be Denied[audio:http://kevinnottingham.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/05-I-Will-Not-Be-Denied.mp3]
INSANE (Push The Panic Button!!!!)[audio:http://kevinnottingham.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/13-INSANE-Push-The-Panic-Button.mp3]