Name your favorite Hawaiian rapper. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute. Actually, I’m feeling...
DJBooth Album Review
I think I’ve made my point. While you’d also have trouble naming a rapper from Idaho, or Oregon or Montana (no, French Montana doesn’t count), Hawaii has been particularly overlooked. Like a tropical New Orleans, it’s a place with a distinct language and culture, a place that often finds its people enduring extreme hardship in the midst of a paradise. But no matter how bad it gets, those same people always seem to find reason to celebrate. In other words, it’s a natural hip-hop breeding ground.
Fortilive is far from the first Hawaiian hip-hop group, and even then one-third of the group is actually from New Jersey, but they’re frankly the first I’ve heard. Comprised of Waianae, Hawaii native emcees Slo-Mo and Mushmouth, Fortilive is the result of an internet collaboration with producer !llmind (yes, he of the unquestionably dope Live From the Tape Deck) that have created one of the better albums I’ve heard in a minute with the release of their long-awaited I vs. I. That’s right, I said better albums. Period. Sadly hip-hop that delivers a message, and delivers it dopely, is an endangered species, but it sounds like it’s alive and well on I vs. I.
Since most here will be familiar with !llmind first, and since it’s his work that creates the canvas So and Mush paint on, we might as well start with the production. Completely unshockingly, it’s excellent. On its surface Come Get Me might sound uptempo, almost fun, but from the beginning a distorted gritty base line underscores the beat, a piece of sonic foreshadowing that explodes in a punk rock mosh pit at the end of the track. I don’t know who else could produce cut like that, but it can’t be a long list. !ll doesn’t stop there, far from it. On The Come Up he morphs into a west coast rider, providing the kinds of snyths and bass slaps heard pounding on Crenshaw Blvd. daily, and on Goin Thru It he lays down a cinematic landscape complete with high-caliber snares and vicious synths. In a way though, it might be Won’t Tell It, co-produced by !ll and Slo, that’s the most impressive. The fact that one producer did both revolutionary riot music and p-poppin stripper anthems, and pulled off both cleanly, is impressive. Better yet, it’s ill.
While I vs. I certainly owes a large part of its appeal to the production, Slo and Mush by no means take a back seat. Fortilive works so well because every component is equally flexible and the two emcees match !ll’s versatility bar for bar. On There They Go the duo lays down narrative verses with the specificity to allow us to see their world, but the universality to describe hoods worldwide. The sharply banging Gimme immediately conjures associations with Mos Def’s classic Got, not only because of the “Manhattan keep on makin it, Brooklyn keep on taking it” parallels, but because like Mos the two are able to suck you in with an instantly engaging flow, and it’s not until you’ve hit repeat four or fives times that you realize just how deep that track you were getting down to really was. Similarly, Mic and Me strips everything down to the basics and reveals Slo and Mush can simply rock a mic with the best of them, and if anyone has doubts about their lyrical skills, I would highly recommend a trip over to Really Goes Down. Unlike some other emcees, Fortilive never scream for attention, never embed their rhymes with gimmicks or histrionics. Instead they’re confident enough to let their flows speak for themselves, and on I vs. I they speak volumes.
It’s certainly worth noting that it took a group formed far from the traditional L.A. and NYC epicenters to deliver one of the most purely boom-bap, and simultaneously west coast rider, albums we’ve hear in a minute. But I don’t want to make this about something as simple as geography in the final analysis. Instead, let me say that there’s not nearly enough quality hip-hop like I vs. I to diminish it to a coordinate on a map, so let’s me end by broadening the horizon. This album is dope. You should listen to it. That’s all.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 02/3/11
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