You tell me: A hip-hop duo from Portland, Oregon called, of all things, Lifesavas releases a leftfield sophomore album that breathes sweet life into a genre whose one-dimensionality has rendered it truly confused. Or, how I learned to stop worrying and let Gutterfly take its place as the best rap album of the year so far. Not to mention one of its most calculated and intelligent.
What makes the album — and its wildly inventive creators, for that matter — so interesting is not just what it avoids but what it gravitates toward: an understanding and genuine appreciation of black expression. The album’s title is a nod to 1970s blaxploitation cinema; George Clinton, Fishbone, Vernon Reid and Dead Prez make appearances. There’s celebration in these songs, of unique voices, of contrary thinking, of history. If only they’d gotten Sly Stone to show up and jam.
When producer Jumbo and emcee Vursatyl (pronounced “versatile”) collaborate with Camp Lo or Smif-N-Wessun — two duos that, despite their cultish work some ten-plus years ago, don’t exactly spring to mind when you’re trying to secure guest spots — it makes sense. Both have distinct styles that are hard to shake; they’re pure and raw but need reintroducing. Gutterfly, with hosts who are more than happy to leave the door open for such drop-ins, is the perfect stage for the unexpected.
We could talk individual moments, but then we’d have to dissect every beat, every flow, every second on “Shine Language” or “Dead Ones” and especially “Freedom Walk.” We could talk about why this doesn’t happen more often — not the wanting or trying of it, but the implementation of it, the achieving of it without pretensions or self-congratulation. We could talk about these things, but what we really should be doing is listening.