Mad scientists

Labseven finally put it all together with North Winds
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  November 21, 2006

061124_labseven_main
DOUBLE-O-SEVEN: Packing the house

Successful hip hop is all about braggadocio. There really is no equivalent in the genre to an indie weenie, who can turn his back to the crowd, plink his guitar, and sing woe-is-me faux falsetto vocals about his relationship with his cat while retaining a prayer of success.

Cat Power cried on the Skinny stage and got more popular, but even the most underground of hip-hoppers (say, the mostly-missing-on-the-local-scene Nomar Slevik) don’t really do a whole lot of self-deprecating on the mic. More than content, the delivery of a good rap depends entirely on utter and total self-confidence, whether it be smooth self-assuredness or the most aggressive of rat-a-tat-tat bravado. The only reason Sole’s crazy-ass stream of consciousness, like Jack Kerouac on methamphetamine, works is because you know for a fact that he not only couldn’t care less what you think of him, but doesn’t even register the possibility that you might have an opinion that matters.

With North Winds, local hip-hop collective (er, band) Labseven might be the first Portland-centric group to completely deliver with that crucial ego component. While the album isn’t necessarily an announcement of the next great thing in hip hop, it is totally enjoyable because you believe every minute of it, from the self-pimping claims that certain vocalists “flow like a bottle of merlot” while others are “comin’ ice-cold like Canada” and “for the women got stamina” to goose-bumping cuts by frequent guest DJ shAde (who, in a spot of trivia, sublet an apartment from me in 1995 before getting me into hip hop by leaving me his wax while he traveled to the Asian sub-continent for a stretch).

On a disc that runs that gamut of what I consider to be the Golden Age of hip hop — the mid-’90s run of the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, the Brand New Heavies, the Fugees, Gang Starr, the Wu-Tang Clan — Labseven consistently and fluidly move from one MC to another, one style to another, thanks to the vocal talents of JJ King and Hectic, the Reinstatah and Mello the Verbal Wonder. And don’t forget Autonomous, who lends his own rhymes while handling most of the arranging and mixing on the disc as producer and retains a consistently enjoyable commitment to melody and old-school Motown soul staples like Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and Sam Cooke.

The opening anomaly that is the self-titled production effort from Analog Death Squad starts off like Gang Starr’s “Skills” from their 2004 comeback album, then harkens back to the Heavies’ 1993 collaboration album with a synth line that should recall Jamalski’s “promp, promp.” Similarly, there’s a contemporary underground Atmosphere vibe triggered by talk of “the biggest Bunsen burners,” but plenty of ’90s throwback to the Jurassic 5 when we’re told we want more. Labseven don’t succumb to today’s MTV, eschewing chingy nonsense and denigrating women, but neither do they get overly word-smithy or forget the power of the chorus like hip hop’s true underground often do.

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