Flashback: Los Angeles, 1993. While millions of heads across the country (shit, across the globe, really) nod to a Dogg named Snoop and his doctor friend, another sort of hip-hop phoenix rises in the LA underground: literate hip-hop spearheaded by Freestyle Fellowship. Paralleling the Roots on our nation’s other coast, this group occasionally uses live semi-jazz instrumentation, as well as the usual brick-heavy beats, to back their spoken words.
Led by a young emcee and founding member named Aceyalone, the Fellowship’s Inner City Griots from 1993 remains an astounding record today. Rhymes run so quickly through the title track’s vibraphone jam that 10 listens later they continue to mystify. The grit of street-ready hardcore hip-hop of “Hot Potato” and “Bullies of the Block” works without any cartoonish gangster leanings, influencing current day progressive Left Coasters including Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples and Blackalicious.
Amazing that Aceyalone retains his underground credibility a decade later, but here he is presenting another star-striped hip-hop journey into his own complex gray matter. Many are the talented guests who hold him in high esteem: NYC new-schoolers El-P, RJD2, and Anti-Pop Consortium, fellow Freestyle graduate Abstract Rude, and Brooklyn’s very own producer Prince Paul.
Four solo albums into the game, organic jazz shades are long gone and the spectre of true thug looms nearby. While it is understandable that Aceyalone strives for a more financially satisfying position by assimilating some popular styles, several of these tracks suffer from Hot 97-ready production values, with tinny drum machines replacing graceful funk rolls. “Let Me Hear Sumn” is certainly a confident shout out, but it would roll through a Top 40 hip-hop radio playlist perfectly, which may not be a good thing to those looking up from the underground. Producer Rjd2 masterminded the first single, “Lost Your Mind,” and it’s the album’s most successful track, Acey’s discourse on little more than a party hosted by your friendly emcee that will “blow your motherfuckin’ brains out,” all set to a repeated orchestra strike. Lyrics for “In the Stereo,” on the other hand, cannot overcome a computerized Sega beat that feels several years behind its own game.
The most obvious evidence of outright thuggery from Aceyalone arrives at the title track, a nonsensical hyperactive rambling about love and its opposite that wastes a perfectly good violin screech sample. It rings somewhat like a low budget version of DMX’s “Up in Here,” and though “The Saga Continues” is a much smoother, Cee-Lo style chorus track, listeners may have trouble overcoming Love and Hate‘s early missteps. As the album progresses, easier sounds take control of tracks like the catchy guitar groove of Rjd2’s “Moonlight Skies,” which benefits from the sleek voice of soul practitioner Goapele.
The vocal balladry of “Space Cowboy” and “So Much Pain” supports some memorable lines like “The only thing I turn down is my collar/ and I’m subject to the popular/ street scholar in the corner pocket,” but the pop choruses repeat too frequently, detracting from the lyrical content. El-P’s angry “City of Shit” guest shot and the pulse of Anti-Pop’s “Lights Out” are well-meaning experiments, but they’re more fun to imagine than to hear. Bonus cut “Miss Amerikkka” makes a relevant but overly familiar statement about America’s uneasy standing in the realm of opinion and international diplomacy, with the rapper caught inside the nation-as-entity: “stuffed in the brain of Americalost in the stomach of America.” He observes the United States’ current turn for the worse overseas and responds “This is God’s work you can’t avoid/ every nation ever built has been destroyed.”
Interesting, but nuggets of political insight cannot save Love and Hate. It’s a worthy effort in some sense, it doesn’t even approach previous work by Aceyalone, a rap veteran and accomplished lyricist whose jazz sage personality has moved further into the shared ghetto. Despite admirable guest appearances, there’s not enough quality production here to distinguish him from other, less innovative emcees.