Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Above the Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (1990)

I seem to have lost touch with what's going on right now, musically speaking, and particularly where it comes to rap. I'm aware of some dude called Chance because I think he was on a reality show which I didn't watch, and there was also some new guy pissing people off by suggesting that lyrical ability was never important. I think he may have been called Future, unless that was someone else. The reasons for my disassociation are, I suppose, that I buy most of my rap on CD from second hand stores and I don't really do downloads or YouTube. I don't have the patience. Also, I'm about two-hundred years old and I've never really given much of a shit about keeping my finger on any particular pulse. I like new shit, but I'm not going to seek it out purely for the sake of seeking it out.

At the same time, I've always found it kind of irritating when old people bang on about how everything used to be so much better than it is now and whatever it is you're listening to will never have the passion or musicality of B.A. Robertson in his heyday. That was some shit to see, I tell you what.

Nevertheless, listening to Above the Law really makes me wonder whether the old fart contingent don't have a point when it comes to that which rap once had, but which it no longer has - from what I can tell, not that I'm really qualified to comment; so I suppose I mean what rap once had which had begun to look kind of thin on the ground by 2005 when I was last aware of any of this stuff. I say rap, but I mean hip-hop, because that seems to be the element we've lost, possibly.

Above the Law were right there at the nativity of what has come to be known as gangsta. They were signed to Eazy E's Ruthless label back when Dre and pals were still talking to each other, and I always had the impression that someone somewhere hoped they would be the next NWA; and given that Above the Law's Cold187um was fucking about with Parliament samples long before The Chronic or even Efil4Zaggin, the landscape would have looked very different without them, and it seems fair to say that they never received the recognition they deserved. Where NWA were a punch in the face, Above the Law went for a jazzier, more relaxed vibe. Their commitment to telling it like it was is obvious from a glance at the track list with titles like Untouchable, Another Execution, Menace to Society, and so on, but the mood is uptempo, soulful and even kind of happy. It's a sunny day album, keeping in mind that the worst aspects of reality may choose to intrude even when the sun is shining. Most startling of all, at least as I listen to this in 2017, is that the lads were still rapping like the Treacherous Three - as Ice Cube once put it - an old school sing-song cadence breaking what was seen as new lyrical ground, at least in mainstream terms. Musically we're only just into the era of sampling, still staying true to the turntable aesthetic, and skipping along on scratchy old Motown loops, piano riffs and pounding bass; and it's this bounce - the very thing from which hip-hop took it's name, according to some dude in the Bronx - which was getting thin on the ground even by '95; and it's not just the sound. It's what the sound represents - kids making music out of stuff they found on the local dump because who can afford a sampler, a studio, or any of that fancy shit? Rap lost the hunger which necessitated the sort of inventive spirit which made albums such as this one sound so fucking raw and out there and dangerous.

Of course, I'm not suggesting it would be any better if everything had just stayed the same for the sake of it. There's no need for anyone to remake this album given that it already exists, but it should at least be better remembered. I don't know if rap is dying on its arse, or whether it just looks like that from here. Perhaps music itself is over as a medium, given the popularity of Ed Sheerhan, Mumford & Sons, and Imagine Dragons, artists I can't even be bothered to hate with any conviction.

I don't know.

I just don't know.

Livin' Like Hustlers is very, very good though. That's what you should take away from this.

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