You could convincingly argue that mainstream hip-hop has never been more influential in pop culture — American culture, world culture even — than it is right now. It’s gotten to the point where hip-hop is culture, which is a cliche but only because it’s so true (come on, even you know how many times 50 got shot). In this context, indie hip-hop has never been more important to those who follow and/or make it, so it’s not uncommon to hear vainglorious indie rappers rapping about how great and noble and righteous it is to be an indie rapper.
Brooklyn-based Babbletron is a three-man rap group — two emcees and one deejay — who’d rather watch cartoons and eat carrot sticks than fuss about indie hip-hop’s place in today’s youth culture. They’re totally unconcerned with boasting their cred (slang term); they just do their thing, gleefully separated from the larger music world. More points in their favor: they have what lefty do-gooders call “good politics,” their sex songs are clever and miraculously un-PC, and best of all, they’re really goddamn funny. You will laugh.
The most convincing review I could write for this record would give samples of the many, many quotable quotes chuckled by emcees Jaymanila and Calm-Pete (Uneasy E and the Underground Turncoat on a Suicide Mission, respectively) on Mechanical Royalty, the trio’s sophomore effort. I won’t do that, but suffice to say there are tons. And not just funny ha-ha lines either: Jay, for example, rolls a nasty, complex verse/extended metaphor on “Dope.” I’d say it’s his finest moment on the album, but that would be shortchanging his brilliant one-liners, including “Her bed’s seen more DNA than the human genome project.” See. I told you it was funny.
The production values are better than average for such a lo-fi effort. DJ Pre twinkles each track with >3 Feet High and Rising-ish funkiness. Especially impressive is how the feel of the beats matches the mood of the rhymes. The music behind “I Need to Be” is stark and desperate, perfectly meshing with the song’s urgent manifesto-like lyrics; meanwhile, the track behind “A.C.W.A.L.L.” is warm and pretty, as Jaymanila cracks wise about awkward conversations with a lovely lady. Guest producers including Rjd2 and Hipsta all know what they’re doing, especially MF Doom on the epic-sounding centerpiece “Space Tech Banana Clip.”
“One Shot” is incredible; it might be the best song on Mechanical Royalty. With its chorus reminiscent of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” “One Shot” starts out all easy and likeable and accessible, then quickly scatters and dissolves into itself. It’s a pretty daring tweaking of the ol’ tried-and-true verse-chorus-verse. It also hits with less force than the Eminem song, probably because the beat isn’t as good and the social context is diminished. Then again, I’ve never had as much fun listening to a whole Eminem album as I have with Mechanical Royalty.