Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Early Atoms Family Appearances Week, Day 4: Old Bridge, Mad Race

If Day 3 was a little too obvious, let Day 4 be nice and obscure.  Old Trolls New Bridge is the first release on Johnny 23 Records, an indie Hip-Hop label that's still active seventeen years later.  It's a compilation CD of their family of artists, including guys like LoDeck and Jak Progresso.  This is a pretty lo-fi sounding CD.  The equipment they used just sounds cheap, so the mixing is tinny and abrasive, and the vocals tend to sound like they were recorded over a payphone.  In a way, that kind of adds to the charm of this super indie collection of furious battle raps and scrappy young artists, but at the same time, none of these could ever be anybody's favorite songs.  It's just too raw, closer to a collection of freestyles than polished music.  It's a fun little experience, though, especially now, all these years later, to see which ones moved on to greater things and how they found their footing.  And while The Atoms Family were never really a part of Johnny 23, a couple of 'em do appear here as guests.

"Mommi's Relay Race" is the highlight of the album; the big posse right at the end.  So let's break down the line-up by the order the appear on the track.  First is Bas PMC, who've I've never heard of outside of this album, although he does appear on one other song.  Jak Progresso is second, and he's been putting out albums on Johnny 23 for years, on a demented horrorcore tip.  RC, who you may remember me mentioning have a catchy song on the DJ e.s.e. and TES album from Day 1.  In fact, that same song is also on this album.  I don't blame them, it's a great sample, and they probably wanted to get it heard as much as possible.  But it is redundant.  Anyway, next up is Breez Evahflowin, who was making a name for himself with 12"s on Wreck Records, Detonator, Bronx Science and even Tuff City.  I'm sure most of you reading this know who he is.  Then there's Big Deep, the other guy who did that song with RC, but is better known today as being one half of the 2 Hungry Brothers.  Then there's a guy named Paramount, who I don't really know, but I gather he's one of The Tapeworms, another crew on this album.  Anyway, he seems to pop up on a number of Johnny 23 releases, so he's definitely down with their clique.  And finally, right at the end, are three Atoms Fam members: Vast Aire, Alaska and Da Cryptic One.

Unfortunately, this song has the same sketchy mastering as the rest of the album, so it's a little rough.  You almost don't recognize Vast's distinctive voice, which does take away from the proceedings.  Still, it's a fun time.  The beat is pretty simple; it's one def loop that basically just repeats for the entire six minutes; but that's perfect for a posse cut with barely any hook, where the attention belongs on the ever-changing line-up of MCs each trying to come off the tightest.  There's an undeniable appeal to posse cuts, where every MC gets on the mic and tries to show and prove as best they can for a short time before passing the mic down the line, and that isn't lost here.

But an undeniable weakness of the era, corny punchlines have been weighing down every release during Atoms Family Week, and Old Trolls New Bridge has it the worst of all.  Right off the bat, we've got Bas PMC rushing to squeeze in all the syllables of "your style's dried up like a jheri curl. Fuckin' with me is like Israelites havin' sex with a white girl."  Jak Progresso has punchlines, too, but manages to flip 'em into something dark and creative enough to hold up in Current Year, "Mr. Hatchet, wanna fight Satan.  Face it, tell me to fly a kite? I'm usin' your skin to make it. Right now? I wanna stick you with a spear, lift you up and watch your body slide down. Fuck bringin' my high down. It's strange how sometimes my mouth isn't moving and I'm still talkin'. I don't attract girls; I stalk 'em."

Breez sounds great like always, coming off like a veteran here with a more refined flow.  Interestingly, this song is divided into groups of three (3 MCs, hook, next 3 MCs, and so on); and all three MCs in the second black use a lot of animal imagery in their bars.  Breeze: "I wear the skin of a lobster, start swingin' elbows, stick my foot in your turtle ass to rock shell toes."  Paramount: "I channel anxiety like female praying mantis; killing cowboys like buffalo avalanches. Levitate like green leaves from tree branches, where monkeys have Tantric sex on,"  Deep: "four beetles on my tongue waitin' for the monkeys to come, in groups of twelve, to develop my religion; my eagle eye persists to have hawks jealous of my vision, venom spittin' to chase the snake"... are just some of the many examples throughout their three verses.  The first couple of times it sounds like a coincidence, but as they keep piling on, I figure it's got to be something they worked out together.  I'm not sure it means much of anything, but it's definitely an interesting choice.

And of course the final third belongs to the Atoms.  By now, you've probably noticed that this is a pretty strange posse cut, merging complex lyricism with a tongue-in-cheek silliness.  And you know the Fam can deliver on that promise.  Vast Aire starts us out by saying, "yo, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I'm not a genius, but I think the rooster got the penis. Yo, I fuck the track all night like a rapid rabbit havin' sex with all might."  Alaska's dropping Simpsons references, and Cryptic has lines like, "my flow is like a sight only had by African flying squirrels hovering from tree to tree discoverin' the perfect branch to see," and by this point the whole song's totally bugged out.  But they spit their flows so earnestly, you'd never notice if you weren't paying careful attention.  I can only imagine the studio was full of smoke when they recorded this track, but it winds up being a crazy song that fully rewards repeated listens.  You've just got to check it out.

And "Mommi's Relay Race" isn't the only Atoms appearance on this album.  There's a Tapeworms song called "Resolution," which features Vast, Alaska and a guy named Okktagon Zupreme from the Secret Service Crew.  It's produced by Big Deep and has some nice cuts on the hook.  It's not as bugged out as "Relay Race," with them taking a stand for the underground against the popular trendy rap of the time.  Alaska makes the "mainstream maintains position as the enemy" line in the sand most clear with his verse, saying, "millenium model holdin' a rotten bible forgotten gospel that I don't give a fuck about you. Suck you, fuck you, I suck myself. Myself, I think you suck, you fell the fuck off. Alaska tax the lap of luxury, sucker MC, shiny jacket halfwit, rebel for the hell of it, irrelevant Missy Elliot."

What else is on this album?  Well, Ace Lover has a little freestyle, and Mac Lethal, the guy who's since became shockingly famous for his viral video rapping about pancakes, has two songs.  There's a couple more tracks by LoDeck and the rest of the gang.  But for my money, besides the Atoms Family appearances, the most noteworthy track is definitely Jak Progresso's solo song, since he's still on that shock value horror core tip, "at age ten, welcome to my house of trapped children; human hides cover my suitcases.  I'm tasteless, wallpaper handmade of cute faces.  Teeth pulled out and made into bracelets.  I'm living hatred."  You know, I never copped a Jak Progresso album, but revisiting Old Trolls this week has made me curious.

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