Monday, September 23, 2019

Vintage LA Underground

I've been on an underground west coast kick this weekend... you know, that slightly muddy, four-track backpacker kinda rap.  And when I got to this record, I decided it was time to fire up the ol' blog machine.  This is a 12" single called Contraband from 2000, a year (and decade!) in which Hip-Hop was feeling pretty bleak, in terms of bland commercial rap pushing out the quality, indie stuff.  This was a nice little hold-out by EX2 a.k.a. E Times 2 on their own label, Abolano Records.

If you're thinking you've never heard of these guys, actually you might have.  E Times 2 is just a clever way to say that their group's initials are "EE," as in Endangered Elements.  That still doesn't help?  Well, they're essentially part of the broader Shape Shifters crew.  Like, in the Shifters, you've got the core four members: Circus, Awol One, RadioInactive & DJ Rob One (R.I.P.), then you've got the ring of essentially junior members (although guys like Akuma's involvement actually go back pretty much to the earliest recordings).  And then you've got these guys on a further ring out, sort of like Othorized F.A.M. might be to the Wu-Tang Clan or something.  In particular, these guys seem particularly affiliated with Awol; most of them could be pretty much, more or less said to be the "Three Eyed Cowz" of his classic Evil Cow Burger album.  EX2's line-up has itself been known to morph a bit over the years (yeah, they're still prolific, making good music up to and including 2019!), but the line-up on this particular record is: producer Sirk, DJ ESP and MCs Gel One, Syndrome228, Virus, Digit6 & DustOff.  This is the lead, and only, single off of their album Undersounds of the 562.

Their opener, "Life Iz..." features the Awolrus himself, which was the big selling point at the time.  It has a simple but effective hook ("life is what you make it; the worst thing is talent wasted") and EX2's interesting blend of fast raps over slower beats.  GelOne starts us off with who stays on theme while mixing in creative imagery, "proceeding with life rather than getting self defeated over mediocre complaints; I'm self-motivated to be a loc with no motive, potentially explosive with enough inertia to be a locomotive, going full speed, I got a full head of steam,  Contributing to a team who doesn't live in a field of dreams; I remember my life is how I make it."  Then Syndrome gets a little more tongue twisty, followed by a harder, more aggressive flow by Virus and Digit just dropping in for a quick verse that leaves you wanting more.  You can tell these guys are still young as their delivery gets a little convoluted, and we get some corny 90's punchlines like "keep it tight like virgin pussy penetration."  But the flaws never outweigh their talents, and the surprisingly effective looping beats never let you go.

Finally, Awol comes in at the end with his traditional ultra-relaxed flow.  The beat doesn't change, but he makes the samples sound different just by the distinct way he approaches the track.  His verse does feel a little lazy; I wouldn't be surprised if he essentially freestyled his contribution, but he still sounds uniquely raw, especially as his verse minds up melting seamlessly into the hook as if they were always one, "I believe in manifest destiny... can't let it get the best of me.  Since I was born naked... and life is what you make it.  Word.  Karma is my religion... The worst thing is talent wasted.  Life is what you make it."

The first of two B-sides is "Sirkulatin" featuring frequent collaborator Tommy V.  He often produces, but to be clear, here he's dueting with Gel One on the mic over another beat by Sirk.  It's a slower beat and Tommy's flow is pretty crazy.  The way he doubles-up his own lines sounds almost tongue in cheek.  Gel's a little more straight forward, but they both sound cool over this atmospheric track with sparse piano notes sounding like drips from a cave ceiling, as if they're literally underground.  ESP comes in at the end to add some spacey cuts.  Finally "Tarmen" has Virus, Gel and DustOff spitting battle raps over a tougher track.  This is their shouty "don't mess with us!" song, with literal references to "wack MCs," but they don't manage to shake their backpacker vibe.  Although I'm not sure it would be better if they did; I like EX2 as they are and this is probably more fun because they do still sound like their nerdy selves ("we stay on top like salad dressing!").  But it does feel like they're attempting some degree of transformation that they're not quite pulling off.

All three of these songs are on the album, though only the 12" also throws in the instrumentals, plus a supposedly Clean edit of "Life Iz...," which actually still has all the curses in it?  I checked the first version two, in case the labeling was just reversed, but no; both have the curses.  So I'm confused; maybe it's just an error.  Anyway, as long as we get the uncut version, who cares about a clean edit?  This comes in a sticker cover with an address to their long dead website, though they can now be found on

No comments:

Post a Comment