When disco died in 1979, a schism occurred that forever changed the face of music. In New York, hip-hop set up shop in the boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem. Meanwhile, house and techno established themselves in Chicago and Detroit, respectively, to make the schism complete. It can be compared to the Great Schism, which split the early Christian church into the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches that still stand today. Hip-hop, much like the Catholic Church, was a little more subversive, some of the major players were a little corrupt, and it blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon. House and techno, much like the Eastern Orthodoxy, were more faithful to their predecessor, and they ultimately took a back seat to hip-hop, finding a niche audience and thriving on a smaller scale.
Enter Five Deez. In 2000, the group emerged out of the obscure Cincinnati scene with Secret Agent Number EP, following that up in 2001 with its solid full-length debut, Koolmotor. Instead of traveling down one fork in the divided path, Five Deez blazed straight down the middle. Dubbed by many to be the kings of dance-rap (or hip-house), the group’s sound seamlessly blended hip-hop and electronic music. Zion I attempted to do the same with its debut in 2000, Mind Over Matter, but the genres were too segregated over the course of the album. Five Deez has actually accomplished it. This is more than a rapper rhyming over techno beats or a producer working strictly with synthesizers. This is a true mix that doesn’t sound awkward, forced or out of place. The music will remind listeners of the genres’ common bond, but it sounds nothing like the disco that gave birth to it all.
With Kommunicator, their third full-length, Fat Jon, Kyle David, Pase Rock and Sonic show they are more than a flash in the pan or a group looking to cash in on a gimmick. With songs more than one hundred beats-per-minute, spacey yet soulful vocals, double-time rhymes, glitches and bleeps, and sampled drums with irregular time signatures, its hard to distinguish where the hip-hop ends and the electronic begins. And, like any good mix of genres, that’s the way it should be. Opening with the title track, producer Fat Jon goes from abstract, ambient instrumental into a jazzy hip-hop track. “Fugg That” sounds like the musical offspring of 8-Ball, MJG and Aphex Twin. Over the beat, Pase Rock brings the anarchy: “I scream fire at a theater/ black power at a Klan rally,” epitomizing the “I don’t care attitude” this group takes toward following convention.
The second half of the album plays out just as nicely, with “BMW” providing a perfectly danceable song that still leaves room for the emcees to do their thing. But perhaps better than any of the aforementioned tracks is “From Sorrow,” in which Fat Jon lets a jazzy, melancholic piano sample dance across a broken-beat drum track. I couldn’t get the melody out of my head, even after hearing it only once. And those who have criticized Five Deez as lyrically deficient need listen to this song. The emcees bring the style, nimble lyricism and substance about the struggles of achieving success in life.
With this album, the members of Five Deez looked to diversify their sound. They succeed admirably, delivering an original, introspective, entertaining album that offers something for everyone. Finally, we have an album that bridges the gap between hip-hop and electronic music.