Whatever Doesn't Kill You Simply Makes You Stranger
[Bad Taste Records]
CunninLynguists is another of those uber-talented yet unknown hip hop acts that have been slugging through the underground circuit for nearly a decade. Their first full-length album, Will Rap For Food, dropped in 2001, and they’ve been releasing increasingly excellent, smooth-flowing, melodic hip hop steadily for the last eight years. Their current release, Strange Journeys Volume I was finally released yesterday, and is perhaps one of their best, a sweet, slick piece of hip hop genius full of righteous rhymes, brilliant production and clever lyricism.
A three-man act out of Lexington, Kentucky, CunninLynguists’s current lineup is comprised of Kno, Deacon the Villain, and Natti. Their eclectic production skills, spearheaded by Kno, and easy-flowing rhymes create a sumptuous, perfect-for summer sound that should play well at backyard barbeques and cruising nights with the windows down. Their themes touch upony the hip hop staples of partying, smoking weed and girls, but instead of being the usual dopey, misogynistic tripe, they demonstrate a sharp intelligence and a sense of fun that separates them from the pack. That’s far from all there is to them, as th main focus of the album demonstrates a greater range as they rap about the trials of their transient lifestyle, the difficulties they’ve faced throughout their career and, well, their strange journeys. Featuring an all-star guest line-up that includes Slug from Atmosphere (another Pajiba Music favorite) and one my personal favorites, Tonedeff (if you haven’t picked up 2005’s Archetype, run, do not walk, and get it right now), as well as regulars like Pack FM, Looptroop Rockers, Killah Mike, Mr. SOS, and Fish Scales (of Goodie Mob), it’s a multi-layered, riveting collection.
In addition to being guilty of rapping about many of the more common themes that permeate modern hip hop, they also fall victim to the occasional skit track, which always bugs me about hip hop records in general. Here, it’s not too distracting, and is even on occasion — particularly the chuckle-inducing “White Guy Mind Tricks.” There are only a couple spread throughout the 16-track album.
All of which allows one to focus on the meat of the album, the wholly engaging music. Right off the bat, with the first song, “Nothing But Strangeness,” the show superior beats and a head-bopping rhythm, backed by a Motown-esque sample. Yes, there are some more puerile themes, including lyrics about someone blowing up a bathroom toilet, but it’s still a great track, with the cool, vocal sample singing “Nothing but strangeness” peppering the chorus. The next track, the all-too-brief “Lunguistics (Live in Stockholm)” shows not only their stellar flow, but also their ability to translate their skills onto the live stage.
There are several standout tracks, many of them aided by their superb guest artists. I occasionally get irritated by the hip hop tendency to overwhelm listeners with guest artists, but here they’re so seamlessly integrated into the tracks that instead of being grating, it’s more like a new instrument added in. This is in no small part due to the original vocal stylings of many of those guests. “Don’t Leave (When Winter Comes)” is a surprising departure from the fun loving themes of many of their songs, and perfectly reflects the addition of Slug from Atmosphere. A song about distance and longing for home, it’s a startlingly poignant track. Similarly, “The Distance,” featuring the introspective, melodic vocals of Tonedeff, coupled with a haunting voice singing through the verses, is another one to take notice of.
Of course, some of the best tracks are also just damn fun. The first single, “Never Come Down (The Brownie Song)” is a simple ode to being high, and while the subject matter might grate on the more stiff-necked crowd, the production and lazy, rolling flow is undeniably addictive.
So what are we left with? Another brilliant hip hop act that patiently waits their turn while commercially successful yet artistically devoid acts take up the spotlight. Strange Journeys Volume I is another wildly imaginative, engaging, and creative record that’s already in a steady rotation in my house and car, and my only hope is that it will enable CunninLynguists to achieve the success and recognition on a larger scale that they most definitely deserve.