On the episode of The Simpsons wherein Homer, Barney and others join up for a barbershop quartet, there’s a discussion before they decide on a name for their group. Skinner says, “We need a name that’s funny at first, but that seems less witty each time.” In Apu’s suggestion, the Be Sharps, they find just that moniker.
I wonder if the Sound Providers had a similar conversation before choosing their name. It certainly adheres to the law of diminishing returns. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say even that much about the San Diego-based hip-hop outfit’s An Evening with the Sound Providers. The first listen to this jazzy, vaguely socially-conscious collection left no mark whatsoever. Some of the instrumentals are airy and nice, but the rapping and beats are undistinguished and labored and trite. One of the refrains is “Never judge a book by its cover.”
I learned that in second grade, maybe first. I was bit older when I discovered how grating a combination hip-hop and goodwill can be. I’m not sure of the precise moment, but it was probably the first time I saw an Arrested Development video, or maybe during my first listen to US3’s “Cantaloop.” In the hip-hop landscape, the Sound Providers come out sounding much more like that one-hit-wonder US3 — though there’s nothing as infectious here — than De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest. Which, you’d imagine, is where they’d want to be.
Instead, the Sound Providers create a poorly-defined positioning against the cynical at best, nihilistic and money-obsessed at worst aesthetic that motivates some of hip-hop’s biggest acts. So goes one of the record’s catchier tracks: “Rapper’s always be braggin’ and boastin’ / But then they fall off like Billy Ocean.” This is all well and good, but the problem is that the Sound Providers fail to provide, at least on An Evening With …, any of the power or dynamism that makes a rap hit in the first place. As such, this sounds a lot like idle bitching. Or maybe hip-hop for people who don’t like hip-hop.