With a modest Sunday night lineup of animated adult entertainment (not that kind) on the Cartoon Network, five years on, Adult Swim has grown into an international brand, giving new credence to cartoons for grownups after the luster of the Simpsons has worn. Now the programming whizzes are trying a similar approach with music. After the success of Danger Doom’s The Mouse and the Mask, Adult Swim has once again made a foray into the world of hip-hop, a trend that will I hope continue. This time out, Adult Swim has teamed up with Stones Throw to release Chrome Children, a compilation celebrating the label’s tenth anniversary.
The connection between the stoner-geek label and the stoner-geek television-network-within-a-network is less obvious than on last year’s Danger Mouse/MF Doom collaboration, which featured appearances from Adult Swim characters on most tracks. I thought I heard Master Shake in the mix the first time I listened to Oh No’s opening track, “Oh Zone,” but this to be a lark. In fact, Adult Swim’s role is all but invisible: There is no sign of the project on the Adult Swim Web site, and Stones Throw acknowledges the partnership but never explains what it entails.
This decision may yet prove beneficial to Chrome Children. Whereas the cartoon cameos on The Mouse and the Mask suited Danger Doom’s juvenile pretensions (see: St. Elsewhere, MM.. Food?) a peppering of hilariously overwrought skits would have detracted from this celebration one of hip-hop’s most out-of-bounds collectives. Maybe the guys from Adult Swim realized the scope of their audience and the good to which it could be put by exposing millions of lackadaisical college kids to artists that are tailor-made for them.
The comp opens appropriately enough with the aforementioned “Oh Zone.” All the tracks were written explicitly for Chrome Children and none more so than Oh No’s highly referential oral history of the label. Over a self-produced beat driven by thorough scratching and a dancing organ, Oh No explains that “Pops did the singing, Mom did the writing/ Mad does production, States did the fighting/ I was watchin’ everybody tryin’ to get enlightenment.” He practically spells out Stone Throw’s raison d’etre with his repetitive chorus of “I’m so zoned y’all, so zoned,” what with all the pot smoke billowing from the studio.
Chrome Children showcases the usual Stones Throw cast turning in typical, though typically inspired, performances. Madvillain returns for the first time since the huge success of its nearly eponymous debut, with “Monkey Suite” offering a catchy, plaintive organ beat hit bits of tinkling piano as Doom raps obliquely about himself in his husky, clipped drawl. (An oxymoron, I know, but isn’t that his appeal?) The dearly departed J Dilla (shout-outs abound) delivers a usual cut in “Nothing Like This” that sounds like it was produced by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, which is to say recorded by a schizophrenic on a four-track at a shack in Marin. Madlib continues his ascent with his most confident rapping yet on “Take It Back,” a track wholly free of Lord Quas vocoding.
More unusual is the harder edge to Stones Throw than I had previously missed, extending beyond a familiar Med track, “All I Know,” a heady anthem declaring allegiance to “the life, the streets/ the beef, the rhymes, the beat … the dough, the weed, the heat, the hoes, my folks, the beat.” Guilty Simpson renders the most street-tough track on the ghostly J Dilla-produced “Clap Your Hands,” though his claim that “a posse don’t make you hard” doesn’t quite jive amidst this tight-knit gang. And J.Rocc mugs for the mike, as does Percee P alongside Quasimoto.
As presenter and executive producer, Peanut Butter Wolf, née Chris Manak, cements his status as label baron and talent scout extraordinaire. The co-founder of Stones Throw with Madlib, he has increasingly taken up the administrative side of the label while his partner continues on in the trenches making beats. Yet he single-handedly attempts to ruin Chrome Children by peppering each track with at least one metallic outburst of “chrome.” Instead of bringing unity to the album it halts any flow that has built to that point. The effect it has on the album is obnoxious. [Such outbursts only occur on the press version of Chrome Children, and they were put there to guard against piracy. We apologize for the confusion. ~Ed.]
The one disappointment, besides all the “chrome” outbursts, may be the absence of Yesterday’s New Quintet. The final quarter of the album peters out with a series of songs that are more retroactive than reminiscent. Gary Wilson’s “Dream(S)” and Aloe Blacc’s “What Now” present soul-jazz flat-liners that should have been left buried in a record-store crate. One song is even from the ’70s: “Third Rock,” by Pure Essence, which is drawn from the Soul Cal imprint of the Now-Again imprint of Stones Throw, which also released The Third Unheard. Sadly, “Third Rock” is far from mystifying ’80s Connecticut hip-hop.
Chrome Children may not bear the heavy imprint of The Mouse and the Mask, but it certainly deserves the imprimatur of the Adult Swim gang. That first album was variously heralded as the funniest and goofiest hip-hop album since Three Feet High and Rising (sorry MC Paul Barman). Though Chrome Children may not be a comedy album, no label takes hip-hop less seriously than Stones Throw — while also taking it more seriously than anyone else. Not unlike Adult Swim’s approach to cartoons.
Peanut Butter Wolf’s mix of Chrome Children: http://www.stonesthrow.com/jukebox/chrome_mix.mp3