At some point, the words “underground” and “boring” became synonymous. Never mind that conscious-friendly virtuosos like Mos Def, Brother Ali, and Q-Tip were responsible for some of 2009’s most unmistakably poignant hip-hop; many fans and critics have come to share a distinct fondness for swaggering, Southern-fried synth-rap. Point your ass that way if you’re solely interested in Gucci and Jeezy. Rhymesayers veteran Slug and L.A. alt-rapper Murs are here to supply a heavy, wholly inventive dose of the ever-polarizing real hip-hop. Or, as Slug puts it, “that indie bullshit.”
On 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Slug — backed by the eclectic grooves of Minnesota beatmaker Ant — sharply, shrewdly summarized the unfortunate experiences of dejected waitresses, suicidal drifters, and dead-beat young fathers, occasionally squeezing in cigarette metaphors or wrenching open letters to his own deceased father. The result was as smart and refreshing as any rap release of the last two years. Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez, despite its droll title, is similarly serious minded. The sassed-up ’80s actress Rosie Perez never receives a mention; these guys are concerned with more pressing matters. Even “Kevin Spacey” is bereft of any goofball punch lines about American Beauty or The Usual Suspects. Instead, the track is a menacing acid trip on wax.
The steamy, psychedelic “Felt Chewed Up” sets the tone immediately: from there, they’re off, tackling grave subject after grave subject over Aesop Rock’s uniquely ominous instrumentation. “Bass for Your Truck” chronicles the plight of a forgone young girl, crippled by insecurities and dating losers out of some incessant need to feel superior. On “Permanent Standby,” the coked-up female protagonist can’t conceal her dead-eyed desperation, hard as she tries. There’s something distastefully misogynistic about these songs and their pedestal-occupying critiques of women, but the haunting detail more than confiscates. (“G.I. Josephine,” a lively nod to single moms, is similarly redeeming.)
Such forbiddingness isn’t unique to women exclusively; the duo exudes despair as they discuss their problems on the ghostly, fittingly titled “deathmurdermayhem,” and on the burbling funk track “The Prize,” they scoff at latter-day trends (Swag? Please.) and the rappers who ride them. It makes for a sober listen, but also a rewarding one. Bustling with detail and originality, Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez is that “indie bullshit” at its finest.