(For today's Reader Review, Antony tackles the first release from underground stalwarts Non Phixion. The Future Is Now is a project I'm sure will resonate with a lot of you two: leave your thoughts for Antony below.)
During the independent glory era of the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s, Non Phixion were a pretty well-received and well-to-do hip hop crew. Originally discovered / put together by half of 3rd Bass, MC Serch (who has made some nice hip hop discoveries in his time *cough* Nas *cough*), the crew, made up of Sabac Red, Gortex, Ill Bill, and DJ Eclipse, moved from a record deal with Geffen (from which nothing materialized) to releasing a series of twelve-inch singles that sold really well. I read somewhere that their first single sold over twenty thousand copies, which is quite an achievement and, sadly, something that will probably never happen in hip hop again.
The group's debut album, The Future Is Now, dropped in 2002 on Landspeed / Uncle Howie Records. Around that time, I remember feeling that it was a little bit too late in the game for Non Phixion to just now come out with a proper album. They had buzz surrounding them in the mid-to-late 1990s with singles like “I Shot Reagan” and “5 Boroughs”, but they were never able to capitalize on it, probably due to their relationship with Geffen. When finally given a shot, Non Phixion managed to put together an album featuring production from heavy hitters such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Large Professor, a dream team that hadn't all appeared on the same project since what many consider to be one of hip hop's finest moments, Nas's Illmatic. Because of that, and also because I liked some of the crew's earlier work, I felt compelled to part with my hard-earned cash to purchase The Future Is Now.
That's pretty much all I know about Non Phixion, so without further ado...
A very dramatic-sounding string selection makes up the background drop for “Futurama”. Ill Bill's verse is full of paranoia and doom, which sets the tone for the rest of the track. Apparently in the future, cyborgs will shoot your momma, so I suppose you should warn her about that. The song itself is nice enough, and is very different from what was considered popular in 2002. I can’t imagine Nelly or Ja Rule dropping a verse on this. Overall, this was a pretty good opener.
2. DRUG MUSIC
Large Professor utilities a nice Mobb Deep sample over a head-nodder of a beat. Ill Bill (well, the whole crew, really) always sounds like he's trying to fit too many words into his bars when rhyming, and this impacts his flow. While the lyrics were interesting, I can’t help but think there are a dozen other emcees who could have ridden this beat in a much better fashion. That being said, Non Phixion still managed to pull this one off.
3. THE CIA IS TRYING TO KILL ME
(Ill Bill's brother) Necro's dramatic strings and stabbing piano samples set a dark backdrop for this monster of a track. I think the crew sounds more comfortable over these types of beats. Again, as you can probably guess by the title of the song, paranoia and conspiracy theories are the main theme of this track (and most of the album). Still, a great song that shows Non Phixion at their best.
4. IF THEY GOT LOVE
Pete Rock provides the beat, and it's really good. I remember hearing a snippet of this song before it dropped and wanting it for a long time. I don’t know if it's Sabac Red or Goretex that drops the first few bars, but the flow is nice, but then in comes Bill trying to fit one hundred words into twenty seconds. Overall, Red and Goretex make the track what it is, whilst Bill doesn’t really fit the proceedings. I’m probably being overly critical, though, because “If They Got Love” is a good song. I remember it being released as a single, as it is one of the more accessible and radio-friendly songs on The Future Is Now: it even has a chorus that features a chant. That being said, I don’t remember it ever actually making it to a wider audience. Not that the group ever intended it to, of course.
5. THERE IS NO FUTURE (FEAT. NECRO)
Necro's beat sounds like it took about three minutes to craft on his synthesizer. These sort of instrumentals fit Bill the best. They share pretty good chemistry, which makes sense since they're related. As for Necro’s rhymes, I have never liked him much as an emcee: his voice is annoying, and I think he's trying too hard to shock people with his lyrics. After a couple of minutes of this, I was ready to turn it off, and you wil be, too. It could have been nice as a short Ill Bill solo, but as it is, it's pretty shit.
6. UNCLE HOWIE (SKIT)
A skit consisting of Bill's Uncle Howie describing how he managed to convert a married mother into a cocksucking dope fiend. Allegedly, he tempted her by taking out his cock and she just couldn’t resist. I might give that one a try next time I'm out at a bar or club. The worst that could happen is that I would end up on the sex offenders register for the rest of my life and struck off from my profession. Still, might be worth a try. (I just appreciate the fact that Antony acknowledges how rape-y all of this sounds.)
7. ROCK STARS
The DJ Premier-produced single. A nice guitar loop sets the tone, and I love the scratched-in chorus, featuring a sound bite from Inspectah Deck's performance on Gang Starr's "Above The Clouds" (“Wild like rock stars who smash guitars”). The crew aren’t really rhyming about anything in particular on this track: they just talk shit, flowing over the instrumental with varying degrees of success. Bill has a couple of nice punchlines, though, and overall, this was still pretty nice.
8. SAY GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY
Necro’s synth loop sounds like something out of a 1980s sci-fi movie. Wait! What the fuck? Are those birds singing on the hook? Didn’t see that one coming. The song as a whole is boring and depressing: in fact, this may be some of the saddest shit I have ever heard. Not something I'll be playing again anytime soon.
9. BLACK HELICOPTERS
I really liked the unusual string sample on this one, It sounds like something you might find on a Beatnuts production: It’s a nice loop for the crew to rock over. Ill Bill sets things off, and, again, his awkward style fits well over the Necro loop. The rhymes are imaginative and well put together, as well. Paranoia is the theme yet again, but the group does a great job with the subject matter. If I remember correctly, this may have even been released as a single. This was pretty fucking good.
10. STRANGE UNIVERSE (FEAT. MF DOOM)
An odd-sounding sound bite/sound effect-filled loop sets the backdrop. It was produced by Necro, but it seems like something Doom could have created himself. I’m not a massive Doom fan: I find him to be just another bloke with a boring voice that likes to talks shit. Thankfully, his contributions to “Strange Universe” are kept to a minimum. In fact, the track itself is pretty short, and the fact that the emcees keep passing the microphone after every few bars will at least keep you interested. At two minutes, this song plays just long enough before becoming annoying, so I guess it wasn't too bad.
11. CULT LEADER
Produced by someone called Dave One. I don’t have a fucking clue who this guy is and what other work he has done. Utilizing the oft-used Jackson 5 “Walk on” sample, his beat bounces along nicely whilst Ill Bill flows over this solo cut. DJ A-Trak's scratching was nice, but nothing special.
12. IT'S US
A nice loop with some crashing drums, provided by Large Professor. I'm not too keen on the chorus, which is just Ill Bill chanting “its the N-O-N P-H-I-X-I-O-N” over and over, which gives one the feeling that the group were running out of ideas at this point. After a couple of minutes, the beat starts to get a little repetitive, and the rhymes are just the same old, same old, really.
13. SUICIDE BOMB (FEAT. THE BEATNUTS, AL TARIQ, MARLEY METAL, & MOONSHINE)
The Future Is Now was waiting for a posse cut, and here it is. A simple, bouncy beat provided by Psycho Les, one which the Nuts and Fashion sound great over. (Their weed carriers Marley Metal and Moonshine aren't anything special.) Again, the Non Phixion members struggle over outside production: “Suicide Bomb” would have worked better as a Beatnuts song, and everyone else could have stayed at home. But then again, it wouldn’t be here on a Non Phixion album, and I wouldn’t be writing about it, so perhaps that entire line of thinking was a bit useless.
14. WHERE YOU WANNA GO (SKIT)
Just bumbling. Pointless, really.
15. WE ARE THE FUTURE
I liked Large Professor's beat, which is very similar to the one he gave Nas for “Star Wars”. Crashing drums, a bouncing bass line, and an epic string loop create a very futuristic feel. The crew take turns rhyming over the instrumental, each sounding pretty great. I could listen to this song anytime.
16. THE CIA IS STILL TRYING TO KILL ME
A rock sequel to “The CIA Is Trying To Kill Me”. Co-produced by T-Ray, who I believe did work with The Artifacts, amongst other hip hop groups, featuring instrumentation from members of the Deftones and Fear Factory (two bands you probably didn't expect to hear referenced on HHID). Some people believe hip hop and rock can be mixed together to create great music: I am not one of these people. Therefore, I find most of this track only classifiable as noise. I wish the album ended with the previous track.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Non Phixion are a talented crew who managed to put together a fantastic production line-up for The Future Is Now, which, ultimately, is pretty entertaining. My problem with Non Phixion is that the subject matter can be repetitive, and as individuals, each member lacks any real personality. Half of the time I didn’t even know who was rhyming as they all sound exactly alike. (I can only pick out Ill Bill, since, over the years, I have heard more of his solo work.) Each song revolves around pretty much the same material: drugs, paranoia, and conspiracy theories, none of which provide much in the way of substance. The flows can sound awkward at times, especially over the guest production, at times struggling to ride the beats while choosing to instead focus on fitting as many words as possible into their bars. This isn't as big a deal when listening to random songs on shuffle, but over the course of a sixty-minute album, the experience becomes frustrating. Still, in 2002 there was still a strong underground scene, and The Future Is Now did manage to stand out as one of the better, more complete projects released by an independent label, and there's a reason for that.
BUY OR BURN? This is currently going on Amazon for £20 (about $30 American), and there is no fucking way I would pay that much for it. However, if you see it floating round for anything up to a tenner, pick it up!
BEST TRACKS: “The CIA Is Trying To Kill Me”; “If You Got Love”; “Black Helicopters”; “We Are The Future”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)