Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dust It Off: Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus

Funcrusher Plus
Album: Funcrusher Plus
Rawkus Records, 1997

Here at RFR, I don't talk a whole lot about rap, but that doesn't mean I'm not listening to it. And for this Wednesday's "Dust If Off," it seems like it's time to once again step outside the boundaries of rock to review one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

Hailing from our very own New York City, Company Flow represents the hardest line of underground rap. Funcrusher Plus sounds like the music we'll be hearing after the apocalypse - stark, militant and haunted. Unlike many other independent hip-hop artists, Company Flow never went in for electronica, ambiance or indie rock tricks. Their rap is a straightforward, hardcore verbal assault.

Funcrusher is the group's finest achievement and arguably the finest achievement in the history of underground rap. Unlike other 90's hip-hop, it doesn't sound dated, even though it's been more than ten years since its release. This is largely due to the minimalism of the beats, with little other than drums supporting the voice on many tracks.

Funcrusher is a concept album, and while the concept is a bit hard to completely follow, it's undeniably post-apocalyptic - the barren beats imitate futuristic wastelands and the rapping is delivered with an urgency that's unrelentingly ominous. At times, the production borders on avant-garde, without losing its hip-hop cool. For example, "The Fire In Which You Burn" features only a pounding off-beat rhythm and a simple, slowly plucked sitar under the words.

The vocals are dense, with few repeating choruses, so after dozens of listens, you'll still have only caught about half the words. There's a dystopian theme made clear by songs like "Population Control," but this metaphorical setting ties flawlessly in to the album's more concrete subjects - the disturbing cycle of poverty and oppression in inner-city neighborhoods, the corruption of the music industry and the terrifying power huge corporations wield in our lives. I don't usually go in for the political lyrics, but Company Flow makes the politics personal - they aren't talking about ideals as much as trying to survive in a violent and repressive society.

Those put off by gangsta rap's glorification of violence will be relieved by tracks like "Last Good Sleep," a harrowing personal account of the spectre of domestic abuse, and "8 Steps to Perfection," which proclaims "if you murder up in the ghetto, you murder in a temple." It can be slightly preachy, but for the most part, that is counteracted by its absolutely anti-idealistic worldview.

By all counts, this is one of the greatest albums of its time. Its sparseness was a major coup for independent and underground rap, proving you don't need a major label budget to put out something astounding and hardcore. It's a musical triumph as well, pushing rap to its extreme in density and complexity of rhythm - few MCs have ever matched El-P's delivery. Most importantly, the sonic and verbal assault is gripping, with intelligent rage bleeding through on every track.

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