Debut album from rap troupe featuring three House of Pain members.
Adam Kennedy 2009
The perceived shine on La Coka Nostra is that they represent a less-than-awaited reunion of dunderheaded 1990s rappers House of Pain. Oversimplification is a dangerous game, though, even if LCN do feature the core trio responsible for frat boy favourite Jump Around.
For one, House of Pain already reconvened for a tour earlier in 2009. And although patchy, debut album A Brand You Can Trust at least goes some way toward erasing the memory of Everlast, Danny Boy and DJ Lethal’s combined past.
An underground hip hop super-crew of sorts, what separates LCN is two additional mic-wielders: no-nonsense New York spitter Ill Bill, formerly of gory gang Non Phixion, and Boston’s one-man drug reference lexicon Slaine.
Respected rhymers in their own rights, both wield considerable lyrical agility. Ill Bill in particular brings worldly-wise content to counter the narcotic implications of that Mafia-referencing moniker, ensuring the vibe is closer to a socially aware Cypress Hill than straight-out gangster party.
The contrasting backgrounds are problematic, however: A Brand You Can Trust can’t quite fathom whether to critique a broken America or carry right on decimating it with fast-living tales of drugs, hustling and big glocks.
Standout star guest Snoop Dogg is unconcerned about such subtleties, swaggering in for Bang Bang’s chorus crux, his lackadaisical genius freshening the hackneyed subject matter of visiting street justice on rivals.
On the flipside, though intelligently introspective, The Stain couldn’t be better named unless it was re-titled Everlast Does Tom Waits (Badly). And the ill-advised gravelly emoting that characterised Everlast’s successful solo work is revisited again on similarly Stilton-whiffing Cousin of Death.
LCN literally save the best for last. F*** Tony Montana opens with Ill Bill’s eye-opening declaration of “F*** Tony Montana / We kill kids”, before sprinkling lyrical nods to every rapper’s favourite movie, Scarface, over a hypnotically luxurious beat.
It’s a tantalising parting taste of potential capabilities, yet until they improve a customer satisfaction hit rate that barely troubles one in three tunes here, La Coka Nostra are a way off becoming A Brand You Can Trust.