Either you think hip hop needs to get back to these kinds of basics or you don't.
Angus Taylor 2008-09-22
The east coast hip hop scene of the early to mid-90s has for some time been viewed as a golden age. Both the pros and the cons of allowing a music and culture to calcify in this way are amply demonstrated during Two Cities by east Toronto MC Modulok and east London producer Bare Beats.
Jazz loops, double bass strings bent double, muted trumpets and rim shots, even a comic book supervillain handle – Modulok was a character from Masters Of The Universe - all the signifiers of serious-minded and backward-looking hip hop are on display. This means little on this record is innovative or new (K Salaam and Beatnick approached the music with a similar earnest for their sprawling occasionally brilliant recent release Whose World Is This? yet had the good sense to invite a few reggae artists along for a fresh perspective) but for its core audience, disillusioned with rap's direction this decade that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Modulok isn't the finest of lyricists. In fact certain couplets like, ''Don't worry hip hop's not dead, just a couple of people need a smack in the head'', from the record's cluttered beatbox intro, sounds like your Dad doing a parody of that newfangled rap nonsense. Yet he comes across as a soulful sort with some stories and insights to share, particularly on the autobiographical Origin where he tells of growing up, ''a little angry'' in 80s Toronto with lines like ''the poster on my wall Motherf**ing Ben Johnson''.
Guest rhymers Apollo Creed, Baracuda, Perry Scaramanga, Kal Sereousz and Smokey all give a good account of themselves, while Bare's Rza inspired beats are nicely put together, with the odd dash of British eccentricity (such as a montage of TV chef Gordon Ramsay losing the plot at the end of Taste) thrown into the mix.
Ultimately, either you think hip hop needs to get back to these kinds of basics or you don't. Two Cities isn't the stone cold classic it wants to be, but if you buy into the whole golden age ethos, it will suffice.