Sunday, December 11, 2011

And the Award for Most Pleasant Surprise Goes To

CSJQ is one of the many groups we've never heard of who us bloggers only find out about when we get promotional e-mails in our inboxes. But this one immediately made me take a second look because of the line up: Clayton Savage and JayQuan. And if those names didn't make you take a second look just now, I'll explain.

The email (and their website, press-kit, etc) claim Clayton Savage is one of the Furious Five. Probably, your first reaction is: hey, I can name all of the Furious Five - Mele Mel, Scorpio, Rahiem, Kid Creole and Cowboy - and Clayton ain't one of them!" Ah, but what about after they split up and formed two separate groups? There was a new Furious Five line-up then, right? Well... you're closer. Rahiem and Creole stuck with Flash and formed a new five-man group of MCs with new members Broadway, Lavon and Larry Love (of the famous "Larry's Dance Theme"). And Mel had his new Furious Five, which was made up of Scorpio, Cowboy and new members King Lou, Kamikaze and Tommy Gunn. All of whom... still don't include Clayton Savage. So I daresay they're stretching the truth a bit by calling him a member of the Furious Five.

But it's not an entirely bogus claim or anything. When the original Furious Five were making records on Sugarhill, they recorded with The Sugarhill Band (Fats Comet)... and when the groups divided and Mel's new formation of the Furious Five started putting out records on Sugarhill, one of the key musicians they worked with was Clayton Savage. In fact, on one single ("We Don't Work for Free") he's downright competing for the title of lead vocalist with Mele Mel. He also put out a solo album in 1986. So while he may not technically have ever been one of any of the Fives, he's certainly an established old school artist with a genuine legacy. And he's someone who perks my interest when I hear he's got a new hip-hop project coming out.

And that's just one of the guys - the other's story is just as interesting. Jayquan is the founder of The Foundation website. You've heard me sing its praises before... if there was a nuclear war and I could only save one hip-hop website, it would probably be The Foundation. And hes an MC who I've covered before with his 12" featuring Mel and Grandmaster Caz. He has a musical legacy that goes back, too - during the heyday of the indie 12" scene in the mid 90's, he was a member of The First Sons, and even put out a record as far as back as 1987 as one of The Too Def Crew. ...So, if nothing else, this new collaborative project is going to be an interesting footnote in hip-hop history.

But, fortunately, it's not nothing else. Like the title says, their four-song debut EP, The Life, turns out to be quite a pleasant surprise. Yes, after all that back-story, we're finally getting to the music; and I'm happy to report that the music lives up to the back-story. What I like the best is how they manage to make something that takes elements from every era of hip-hop, bridging the gap from the Sugarhill Band days to Pink Friday; and it all works. It's got rich and varied instrumentation thanks to Savage, who also sings in a couple different styles, that has a lot of old school integrity but sounds modern enough that if you replaced Jay with Drake (for Drake's name, not his MCing skills), most of the songs could easily be one of those break-out hit singles on Youtube with the kids. But one difference is that Jay stays a straight rapper on here - not in terms of his sexuality, but in the sense of pure MCing without all that sing-songy autotune, computer generated stuff (though they do utilize ALL of those tricks and more for Clayton's vocals).

Not that it's entirely flawless... sometimes Jay's rapping might be a little too straight, by way of being generic. A little boost in the writing, Kool G Rap or Rakim style might go a long way. And one of the songs on here, "Beautiful Girls," feels under-cooked. Musically and lyrically, it's just not quite up to par with the other tracks on here. I think they maybe should've kept tweaking this one in the studio for a while before releasing it alongside the others. Of course, that's not because it's bad, but because they set the par pretty high with the other songs.

And there's a reason I thought of Pink Friday when I first heard this, and not just because they share some really engaging musical vibes. The hook to the EP's title track, "The Life" ("I wanna live the life... the life... the life") sounds so much like the one for "Moment 4 Life," that if this song ever did become a break-out hit, I'd be quite worried about hearing from Nicki's lawyers. But, hey, that hook sounded good then and it sounds good now, so as a listener and not a copyright attorney, I'm not mad..

So, you get four songs total on this EP, plus a Clean Version of the song "F.U.N." The language censored from the Clean Version runs right through the chorus as well as the rap verse, however, so I'd skip that one. Kinda ruins the whole thing. Fortunately the Explicit Version's here too, so it's not a drama. This is primarily an mp3 release (boo!) but you can get CD hard-copies from, which is what I recommend.

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