With the little hip-hop renaissance we're having locally, it's only fitting that Labseven, who've been at it longer than most in the city that encourages everyone to rise again, should get back in the action. Sure, they haven't played a gig in a year and a half, but that's no reason they shouldn't release Formulated Mind Fields, a 15-song, hour-long sophomore album, this weekend at the Big Easy.
GET ’EM WHILE THEY’RE IN TOWN Labseven.
True, their many members are somewhat scattered to the four winds — in places like Chicago, Seoul, and in country bands — but the album sounds pretty damn cohesive, despite roughly a dozen different lead vocalists. Quite simply, it's a lot of hip-hop, and there's no filler. No silly sketches or extended instrumentals. It's verse after verse after verse in large part, and it can feel like a bludgeoning at the finish if you're not up for it. While there are some playful moments from time to time, this album is largely dead serious, about as urban as anything gets in Portland.
If they emulate anyone, it's the Wu-Tang collective — JJ King even drops a "Protect Ya Neck" reference in "The Keys," full of chiming bells in Doc Brown's production, and Hectic sounds like ODB to me. The change-up, though, comes with vibe lent by Mello's (a/k/a Luke Mallett) sometimes-sung vocals, which lend a rootsy (not Rootsy) vibe to songs like "Darker Roads" and "In the Air," which bookend the album.
Plus there are all the guest vocals, some of which are more memorable than others. Ghost is fresh air in the suffocatingly aggressive "Truth Hurts," which opens with MLK's powerful "freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth" and doesn't let up from there. I believe it's JJ who promises to take us from the astrological to the ontological, and that's a turn of phrase I can respect: "A true MC will spill truth to the community and still remain ill."
This is also just about the perfect environment for Bread to shine. In a full album's dose, his verses can run together, but here his beautifully rounded tones and rolling rhythm stand out like a beacon, even as he stays humble: "I never said I was nice/Don't psyche yourself out livin." Mike Blast is also deliciously mean in "Marauders II." He promises to "rip out your soul, use your carcass as a doormat," with a great falsetto sample thrown in by Autonomous.
As for the production as a whole, the Jimi Hendrix rejigger in the opening of "Last Days on Earth," sitting on top of delicate cutting from DJ shAde is fantastic. I'm not totally sure Mello's initial verse works on top of it (the Mallett Bros. "good with the better" reference is cool, though), but I could listen to that jagged remix of the guitar tone for a long time and it's truly a workingman's anthem. Also well done is the horn line, and orchestral vibe in general, that Autonomous carries through "A New Perspective," finishing with more heart-racing work on the tables from shAde. It's expansive without swallowing the whole track.