When the concept of Strong Arm Steady came together as the anti-thesis to Death Row and their gangbang heavy themes, there were up to eight members stemming from several areas from the West Coast underground scene. From there, it’s only taken about 8 years, several member changes, and over 10 mixtapes to finally complete and release Strong Arm Steady’s long awaited first official album Arms & Hammers. Nope, In Search of Stoney Jackson doesn’t count, as that is a collaboration album with Madlib, and Deep Hearted was an independent release. Today, the SAS Crew is made up of Krondon, San Diego-native Mitchy Slick and Phil da Agony, each well established musicians within their own right. And as of right now, they sound as if they are focused and ready to make great Hip Hop.
Arms & Hammers, 12 tracks deep and features production from DJ Khalil, Nottz and Terrace Martin, is the quintessential West Coast-themed album. From the subject matter at hand and how it’s lyrically delivered, down to the musical style and beats they are rapping over, it’s very clear these gentlemen love California, its culture, its women, and the life. They also don’t hesitate in telling you the traps and other downsides of life in the hood, however. Nevertheless, there has been a certain expansion and elaboration of several different topics on this album. Not only are they discussing important social issues at hand (Sean Bell, recessions, declining opportunities for all), but they also address the ways of gang life, at times explaining in detail the reasons that led them (and others) to gang-banging in the first place. “Make Me Feel” and “Gangsta’s” blatantly go into detail on what daily life can be like in southern Los Angeles, while “Klack or Get Klacked” allows each of them to shine lyrically and touch on a wide array of issues. The traditional track for the ladies “Blow My Horn” with Kurupt completely missed me, frankly, but they quickly make up for it with the traditional trunk-thumpin, Crenshaw-friendly aptly titled “Trunk Music”, which doesn’t sound horrible on the Bose stereo.
Overall, this project has a strong start and is lyrically intriguing with subject matter delivered in a way that’s interesting and easy to keep up with. The end of the album is a bit weak for my tastes, and lacks comprehensive beat structure that truly supports their sound. However, what it lacks musically and beat-wise, it more than makes up for in lyrical content and structure. If you love the West, and you just happen to be into intelligent, well-versed hip-hop music, this is for you. But I would definitely start with In Search of Stoney Jackson and give Arms & Hammers a couple of spins in the stereo. Delayed, but worth the wait.