Let’s not pretend the backlash and revisionism concerning the backpack rap movement isn’t without warrant. Much of the technical rhyme virtuosity, progressive lyricism and sonic aesthetic that drove the nationwide alternative to mainstream rap had ran stale by mid-decade. The left-of-center content became redundant, novice youngsters were pilfering the crates that provided the template of many classics, and simply the music lacked fun or relatability. Ironically, as mainstream rappers see their shtick run dry, a back-to-basics approach has been championed, and everyone all of the sudden wants to get on some boom-bap. Luckily for us, two of the more consistent and talented producer-slash-rappers, who shaped the turn of the century West Coast underground, have joined forces as Gangrene.
Oh No and Alchemist, like the blob out the ghetto, concoct a frenetic, hallucinogenic, basement party perfectly titled Gutter Water. We all know Oh and Al ain’t gonna be mentioned during conversations about elite emcees, but that’s not the point here. This is some bug-out, beat-head, Hip Hop on an acid trip, backpack shit: the duo’s rhymes do just fine to push the songs and sound forward. Tied together by obscure and recognizable vocal samples and short schizoid beat interludes, this album is as much about superfluous social extremes as it is about social anxiety. The video for “Take Drugs” captures this sentiment quite well. “Boss Shit” drops in after the intro, rattling with its Bollywood-esque sample and thumping bass line. With cuts by the unsung DJ Romes, “Boss Shit” is definitely some drive the whip reckless music. After a dramatic television like interlude, the narcotic “Not High Enough” follows full of layered pianos, a hazy synth, and a swinging drum sample overdubbed with a subtle 808. “Get Into Some Gangster Shit” is an early highlight that features a refreshingly nimble and aggressive Planet Asia over a collage of understated samples and a funky bass. The rewind button will definitely find fingers after it hits sound systems.
Yet, the honorary blunt, 40 oz, and gun go to “Brass Knuckle Rap”, featuring none other than gully rap king Guilty Simpson. Simply stated, it’s that “smack mutha-fuckaz in they face juss for livin” rap. Driven by the chant of “Stomp” over drums that sound like they are being sampled through mud; it’s everything that is good about tuff guy rap music. Other guests like Raekwon, Evidence, Fashawn, Roc C and MED stop by for the tuff talk, girls at the crib, let’s do lots of drugs rap, but mostly to lukewarm results. The album definitely hits a snag after the midway point, but it’s nothing major. Though the rest of Gutter Water does not reach the levels of the songs mentioned previously, it comes together nicely. Lastly, the album entertains and shines like oil stains in blue collar garages, while showing the elements that use to drive rap albums: samples, loops, chops, free flowing rhymes, flourishes of live instrumentation, effective interludes and humor. Gangrene’s Gutter Water is definitely a good way to end the year.