In 1999, the Polyrhythm Addicts released the fantastic Rhyme Related album and then disbanded before touring to promote it. That was by design: DJ Spinna, Mr. Complex, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Apani B Fly Emcee had gotten together for Mr. Complex’s “Not Your Ordinary” single, and only at the behest of Nervous Records would they collaborate again for that ten-track release. But it would leave an indelible mark on New York hip-hop. Eight years later, genre is again in transition, and the Polyrhythm Addicts (with Tiye Phoenix replacing Apani B) are back with the classic boom-bap.
Break Glass — the title refers to emergency glass, as in, they say, what needs to be broken in order to save hip-hop — comprises seventeen tracks that recall hard-knock old-school hip-hop. Mr. Complex and Shabaam Shadeeq trade flows on par with each other, but it’s Tiye Phoenix who rises above her fellow emcees. The only member without a solo release to her name, Phoenix controls her verses confidently. In “Smash,” she closes a smoking verse with “You got money, but your heat is pure wanksta./ Thirty is the new twenty; smart is the new gangsta.”
Despite the limited catalog, there is no shortage of “savior”-type boasts. In “Kerosene,” which is sparked by Spinna’s inclusion of a vocalist sample, Sahdeeq quips “We’re compared to the Fugees, but all of us can rhyme.” Such a comparison might be premature, but the second half of the assertion, at least, holds true. Guest appearances from Pharoahe Monch (“Reachin'”), Planet Asia (“One Chance”), and Phonte (“It’s My Life”) enhance the album, and Large Professor steals the show with a name-dropping verse on “The Purist,” an homage to old-school hip-hop. It’s certainly legitimate to mention Polyrhythm Addicts alongside the artists Large P references (EPMD, Run D.M.C., Eric B & Rakim), but it’ll take more output to solidify the group’s legendary status. Regardless, Break Glass bolsters the claim.