It’s impossible to know exactly when it happened, although I like to point the finger at Puff Daddy circa ‘96, but somewhere along the line making music became just another thing a rapper does. It’s the album that gets them the film role, which includes a scene of them drinking their branded liquor, which is served exclusively at every stop of their world tour. Branding, synergy, cross-promotion, stylists, pr campaigns, these are the things that dominate the minds of the modern rapper, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for, say, just making some f**king …
DJBooth Album Review
Random Axe doesn’t give a f**k about branding, synergy and stylists. (I know, I know, I’ve dropped two f-bombs in the last two sentences. What the f**k do you expect? I’ve been listening to a lot of Random Axe.) Formed way back in ’08 for seemingly no other reason than it’d be ill if they all made music together, Random Axe is comprised of producer/rapper Black Milk, whose stellar Album of the Year is still in heavy rotation in eL casa de Nathan S, Guilty Simpson, another Detroit native with rhymes are so raw probably contain salmonella and Sean Price, hardcore rap's preeminent pun-lover (see also Jesus Price Suparstar, Kimbo Price, etc.). In other words, this is not a carefully orchestrated supergroup designed to sell t-shirts (although they won’t be mad if you pick some merchandise up). Hell, Price is on record saying he had no idea what the song titles were until he saw an early copy of their self-titled album. In other words, all Random Axe cared about was making a rugged and dope hip-hop album. It shows.
In other-other words, I don’t have to do any more explaining and we can just get into the music. While The Hex was created in dedication to Milk’s seriously ill manager it’s far from mournful, in fact it’s got none of the typical markings of a tribute track. Instead, Guilt, Price and Milk talk across the track, dropping rhymes that are both unflinchingly aggressive and more intricate than most might realize on first listen. A little more easily accessible to the average listener is Random Call, a lightly banging cut whose hook brought me back to the State Property days and the fantastically titled Chewbacca, which is perhaps the best example of how much ground the trio can collectively cover on one track. Only in relation to Price does Guilty sound like the more reasonable emcee. Personally though it’s Black Ops that had me hitting the rewind button, but that’s probably just because I was searching for the perfect song to rob a bank to. Guess I can stop searching.
By all accounts Black Milk was the driving force behind Random Axe (the group and the album) which only makes sense; it’s the production that truly provides an album like this with a sense of coherence. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the man’s rhyme work as well – as I wrote on Album of the Year he’s moved beyond “producer trying to rap” to just “rapper” - but the man supplied literally 100% of the beats on the album so his boardwork deserves its own paragraph. While every beat here bangs, Guilty and Price would refuse to rap on anything else, Milk’s real genius lies in subtlety embedding more soulful elements into even the most boxcutter beat. Just take Another One, which while certainly head nodding also includes an unidentifiable and haunting vocal sample that hovers throughout. Along the same lines, The Karate Kid is almost meditatively ambient, now that I think of it it’s the type of beat Mr. Miyagi would play while pruning his bonsai, and Shirley C may be the first hip-hop track I can ever remember hearing that opens with a prominent tambourine. While the racks on racks on racks crowd won’t notice, if nothing else Random Axe provides true production heads with serious inspiration.
In the end it’s simple really. If you, or have ever uttered the words “you know, Chris Brown isn’t that bad of a rapper” this album isn’t for you. But if you consider dressing up putting on clean socks, if you know what the streets smell like at four in the morning, if you consider Shook Ones Pt. II the perfect track to kick back to, you’ll have Random Axe on repeat for weeks. It’s good to know there are still people out there who still only care about making dope music.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 06/16/11
Duck Down Music
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