I used to root for Slug. He was my little emcee that could, chugging through the underground in the Minneapolis hip-hop troupe Atmosphere. He had wit, charisma and skill, filling the classic (and girl-obsessed) EP compilation Lucy Ford with such bare honesty (call it emo if you will) that it was a brilliant anomaly in a hip-hop world filled with unbridled machismo. Then Slug started falling off with the decent rehash God Loves Ugly (2002) and was torn off course with the yawn-worthy Epitaph Records debut, Seven’s Travels (2003). He wasIt was the sound of someone who was ready to embrace a new legion of fans (ones that attend the Vans Warped Tour), but it came at the expense of alienating his old standbys.
With the release of Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, Slug’s second collaboration and first full-length release with Definitive Jux emcee Murs, I’m back at Slug’s sideline, waving my pom-poms and kissing his feet at halftime to apologize for ever leaving his cheering squad.
Following 2002’s A Tribute to Christina Ricci, the duo has (rather humorously) selected another worthy underground actress as inspiration, and Marie DeSalle brings out the best of both emcees as well as producer Ant (Slug’s conspirator in Atmosphere). Spinning some sick funk and soul samples in one of the best collections of beats this year, Ant proves that the unified sound one producer can achieve on an album will always be better than enlisting a handful of high-profile beat-makers.
From opener “Employees of the Year,” Slug and Murs flip verses like the days of two emcees and one deejay. Ant lays down a rapidly clipped guitar line before breaking out a heavy-hitting funk bass on “Your Mans and Them.” “Morris Day” is a briskly paced, flute-looped track that sits beneath each emcee’s — Murs with his grimy, somewhat Dr. Dre-ish braggadocio and Slug with his matter-of-fact storytelling. Ant even breaks out the sped-up soul samples on “Dirty Girl,” a minimal track highlighted by Slug in hook-up mode. And the skits here are actually worth looking forward to.
If there’s anything that feels off about Lisa Bonet, it’s that Slug has attained his finest form in years by ditching his emo schtick, which is basically what’s responsible for any acclaim he has received as an emcee. And with Ant spinning gangster-funk (“Gangster Ass Anthony”) that’s typically out of his repertoire, the album relies heavily on a certain feeling of posing. But with enough old-school throwbacks in the rhymes and beats, it’s clear that Lisa Bonet sounds so good because these guys are having fun doing something off their beaten paths. Sometimes it’s more fun to jump out of character.