Sunday, February 3, 2013

20/20 Hindsight

Last year, Jamille Records reissued a rare, old school single by Milwaukee's 20/20 Boys  (or two thirds of it, anyway). That was a really fun, if sort of rudimentary single, and you can go back and read about it in an earlier post. But it's not the whole 20/20 Boys story. The Boys returned as simply 20/20 a couple years later to release one more single. I don't know whose decision it was to print pale gold writing on an even paler gold background; but if you can't read the label there, it reads: "Underground Railroad," on SOTS Productions.

SOTS is an acronym for Students Of The Struggle, and the label gives thanks to Southern University, so I think it's safe to assume that at this point in 20/20's career, the Boys were college students. And clearly, they were looking to do something more mature and higher minded than "My Position" for their second outing... likely also why they dropped the "Boys" from their name. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a historical diatribe about the struggles of Harriet Tubman. The "underground" of the title refers to their status in the music industry. But they're definitely looking at it from a sociopolitical - and dare I say "collegiate?" stand-point than their first outing. I mean, no one was warning the listener about the dangers of "wind[ing] up in a racist jail cell" on "Burger Bounce."

The production sound has also changed in tone along with the subject matter. The instrumental's funkier in a way, but more subdued, almost west coast sounding. It's got a familiar bassline and some samples we've heard before (and a tried and true "Funky President" vocal sample for the hook); but I've never heard them fused together the same way they are here. And the MC's vocals have an echo effect, which definitely brings to mind Chuck D. This doesn't have the wild fervor of a PE record, though... but would fit in nicely alongside their second string acts like Chief Groovy Loo and the Chosen Tribe or Prince Akeem 

Does it work? Yes and no. It does sound like they've progressed, both lyrically and production-wise. They've not only changed with the times, but have mastered new techniques to make more "advanced" hip-hop records. But there's also sort of a muddiness to the whole thing. Part of that might boil down to just low budget mastering; but it's more than that. It lacks the vitality of their earlier work. It's a cool record, I like it; but despite its raw, amateur vibe, there's just something compelling about "My Position." You can see why Jamille brought it back. Somehow I doubt Jamille will give this one the same treatment.

This actually reminds me of Success N Effect. Remember them? Their first album was like a straight-up Miami bass album, with silly songs about girls and "Cruisin." Good times. Then their second album slowed it down, and stripped away all the light-hearted stuff to deliver anti-drug messages and stuff. Finally, they came back with their third album, Drive By Of Uh Revolutionist with Chuck D, a hard, militant, banging album. So,applying that story to the 20/20 Boys, this is like their awkward, growing pains middle record... not bad - hey, I'll still revisit Back-N-Effect. But I'm saying, if they had only stuck it out for one more record, they probably would've come up with their best music of their careers. And it would've had Chuck on it.

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