erasing clouds

Foreign Legion, Playtight

reviewed by dave heaton

If by some perfect alignment of the stars, DJ Design ends up giving his beats to hip-hop's biggest names, like how 9th Wonder did a track for Jay-Z after Little Brother's success, then the world of mainstream hip-hop would be a beautiful place. But nevermind that, it already is beautiful, just by the mere existence of Design and his crew Foreign Legion. Their second album Playtight, released last year and re-issued this month by Look Records, has some of the most alluring hip-hop sounds you're likely to hear these days. Design has an ear for what slams and what floats - by that I mean that his tracks have force enough for jeeps and clubs alike, but also a light, airy vibe that matches the party rhymes of the group's two MCs, Prozack and Marc Stretch, perfectly while lifting them up to an even more sublime plane. Look Records described Design's beats for Foreign Legion's 2000 debut album, the unfortunately out-of-print Kidnapper Van: Beats to Rock Whilst Bike Stealin', as "equal parts Average White Band and Boston Philharmonic," and that applies even better to the funky-but-futuristic hybrid he's crafted for Playtight.

"It's just music/if it's hot, it's hot," Prozack rhymes on the album's first track, "Here We Go Again," and the music on Playtight is hot. But so are the rhymes. Prozack and March Stretch may have the prototypically Californian quality of laidback-ness, but they're not lazy. On every track here they cleverly and powerfully articulate their aims, which are basically threefold: to party, to party, and to party some more. With humor and wit that's on a seriously smart-ass tip, the duo rhyme about partying like it's all they know - the fact that the beats will rock your whole neighborhood provides ammo for their claims. In essence, this is one of the best party albums in a long time, from any genre of music. As the album proceeds, the party slows down a bit, in time for them to drop one serious track about day-to-day survival ("How Do It Feel") and a few more mid-tempo tracks, but by the album's end they're not even slowing down, but are out looking for another party ("Party Crashers").

The album-ending "Roommate Joint" belies a love for old-school rhyming schemes involving taking a theme and running with it (in this case it's a litany of roommate squabbles); "Champagne Beamin'" shows a similar love for the roots of hip-hop. Foreign Legion know their hip-hop, but they're nowhere near being retro. If anything, Playtight is one of the most forward-looking hip-hop albums to come along in a while. They take everything you love about hip-hop - smart beats and crafty rhymes - and throw in real passion and a dose of the new. They're keeping things moving while rocking the crowds, and I can't wait to hear what they do next.

{Look Records:}

Issue 20, February 2004

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