The breakup of seminal underground hip-hop act Company Flow — comprised of El-P, Mr. Len and Bigg Jus — clearly threw Justin Ingleton for a loop. After relocating to Atlanta to help guide Sub Verse Records, Jus recorded Black Mamba Sessions, an album designed to spit more vitriol at the increasingly superficial mainstream hip-hop culture.
The album’s 2001 release, however, was cancelled a week before September 11, and subsequent actions by the Bush administration forced Jus to reconsider the focus of his rage. Black Mamba was then chopped up, and portions of its contents were released in late 2001 as the Plantation Rhymes EP. Jus’s 2003 collaboration with Orko Elohiem, Woe to Thee O Land Whose King is a Child, recorded as Nephlim Modulation Systems, soon became the primary vehicle for his political attacks. It also stood as his only official full-length since the dissolution of CoFlow.
Which brings us to 2004 and Black Mamba Sessions v2.0. If you’re starting to get mixed up, you’re not going to like the next part: BMS v2.0 consists of thirteen tracks and twenty-three additional mp3 files — the audio tracks make up the new album, and the mp3s are the previously unreleased 2001 version of the album. To top it off, both the 2001 version and the new version share material with the Plantation Rhymes EP. Okay, now my head hurts.
The good news is that BMS v2.0 is the most focused and developed version of the material Jus has been working on since CoFlow went kaput. Still shunning the money-cash-hoes routine for abstract, brain-twisting beats and rhymes, Jus clearly hasn’t let his skills atrophy. The first full track on the record, “Kingspitter,” is a new addition for BMS v2.0, and cheers to that — it’s one of the best on the album. The deliberate pace is belied by frenzied buzzes and scratches as Jus throws wordy, complex rhymes that marked his past work.
At times, the wacked-out beats drown out the rhymes, and sometimes get so esoteric it’s hard to figure out exactly what he’s getting at. But whether he’s tackling the “urban battlefield” brought about by globalization on “Plantation Rhymes” or waxing nostalgic about his difficult childhood on “Dedication to Peo ’97,” Jus can still bring it. His political rage comes to a head on “Silver Back Mountain King,” calling out the Bush administration (“Bones of 3,000 victims in their closets / Why you trying to stop the investigation of the Twin Towers?”) and apparently doing some research of his own — the vocals end with the echoing repetition of “America uses depleted-uranium-tipped weapons.”
Some traditional hip-hop gems can be found, like the lazy piano of “I, Triceratops.” But for the most part, Jus keeps the abstraction engines pinned at Ludicrous Speed. And much like all experimentation, it can be hit and miss. For the jazzy beat-switching of “Suburban Nightmare Texas Size New World Order,” there’s the plodding monotony of “Moss Pink Coats.” When there’s no method to the madness, the madness gets boring.
The main question nagging this record is the necessity of releasing (in some cases) the same songs three times. The trimming and updating done for BMS v2.0 definitely streamlined and improved the record, but it almost seems like cheating as if to say, “Here are three answers, I’m sure one of them is correct.” Working with the same material for four years had to be frustrating, so if nothing else, this can provide Jus with some closure. Here’s to hoping it was a learning experience.