erasing clouds

Bald Head Slick & Da Click (Ill Kid Records/Land Speed Records)

reviewed by Dave heaton

Gangstarr has always represented hip-hop in its purest form: A DJ with turntables, an MC with a mic. No frills, no glamour, just hip-hop. They've also always showed a keen awareness of what's going on in the cities of America today; their music is a reflection of urban life today, in all of its complexity.

In addition, Gangstarr's MC, Guru, has used his solo Jazzmatazz projects as a way to diversify the musical territory he deals with. Starting as a fusion of hip-hop and jazz, over three albums the project grew to include various forms of R&B, and some reggae as well. Guru's newest project, Bald Head Slick & Da Click blends the musical terrain of Gangstarr with the collaborative nature of the Jazzmatazz albums. It's a hardcore version of those latter albums: a celebration of raw hip-hop that allows Guru to work with a variety of MCs and producers.

As the first release by Ill Kid Records, it also kicks off Guru's new role as record label owner. Featuring different MCs and producers on nearly every track, with Guru's presence the one thread running through the whole affair, Bald Head Slick & Da Click is a showcase for all sorts of artists who share Gangstarr's view of hip-hop as a document of urban reality. Though the album features over 30 MCs (all relative newcomers except for Guru, Ice-T and Ed OG) and 18 producers (also mostly newcomers, plus a few legendary figures like Pete Rock and, of course, Gangstarr's DJ Premier), both the music and the lyrics form an overall picture of rawness.

Though each producer shows his own personality, the music on the whole is soulful yet sparse, without a wealth of samples of instrumental flourishes. And the lyrics are starightforward, explicit, and rough. The major themes of the album--suriving in hard economic times, resorting to crime to pay the bills, staying loyal to friends within such an environment where people will do whatever it takes to get ahead--are major themes of life today. The album's other theme is staying "real" in a music business that's inherently phony. The opening track "Where's Our Money?!" is Guru's DIY call for hip-hop artists to stay away from the greedy, opportunistic world of major labels. The artists here aren't about to compromise for anything--and it shows in their rhymes, filled with toughness and braggadocio.

On one level, this album is a way to put young MCs and producers on public display. In that regard it works; the level of talent here is remarkably high, But it's also a fantastic display of the power hip-hop can have when it gets to its essentials. The best tracks here, and there's plenty of them (like "In Here," matching Guru with Wu-Tang collaborators Timbo King, Killah Priest, Black Jesus and producer Alchemist, the streets-as-warfare track "War Tactics," featuring New Child, James Gotti, Fatal Hussein and producer Stroupe of Jedi Mind Tricks, and the cinematic bragfest "Stay Outta My Face," with longtime Gangstarr ally Big Shug), show off the mesmerizing quality the simplest hip-hop tracks can have. While most compilations and highly collaborative albums have a sense of incohesiveness or uneveness to them, Bald Head Slick & Da Click is a complete success, both displaying a dizzying array of talent and representing the best connotations of the word "hardcore."

Issue 7, October 2001 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds