November 22, 2008

Artifacts - That's Them (April 15, 1997)


When El Da Sensei and Tame One dropped their debut disc, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, as the rap duo the Artifacts, they were received with middling sales (from a major label's viewpoint, anyway), and mild critical acclaim. While the duo from Newark, New Jersey, went unheralded in their time, a funny thing happened: these former graf writers managed to create music that held up to close scrutiny, sounding a lot better than many of their contemporaries, resulting in a debut becoming a diamond in the rough that is worthy of rediscovery today (at least, according to my original post).

The two men brought a lot of the same concepts to the table when it came time to creating their second effort, That's Them, for Big Beat/Atlantic Records. Although their first disc was primarily produced by T-Ray (best known for his inclusion in the Soul Assassins crew, if not for his actual work), for the sophomore album they opted to switch to Shawn J. Period, V.I.C. (best known for his work with The Beatnuts) and Baby Paul and Mr. Walt from Da Beatminerz. The crew's mentor (and the man that discovered the duo) Reggie Noble is nowhere to be found, but his influence is all over That's Them's DNA: indeed, it's probably impossible for a rapper to come straight outta Jersey and not be influenced by a hip hop giant such as Redman. However, the tales of El and Tame One are exclusively their own.

Shortly after releasing That's Them, El Da Sensei and Tame One amicably broke up the band. Both artists moved on to other projects, so it's relatively easy to locate them on the Interweb, but in listening to That's Them, there are no true signs that a breakup was imminent, which makes that particular outcome even more intriguing.

1. ART OF SCRATCH (INTRO)
Short and sweet, so it's tolerable.

2. ART OF FACTS
Lyrically, Tame and El haven't lost a step, but I did not like this wack-ass Shawn J. Period beat at all. It's never a good idea to put your listeners to sleep right at the beginning of your album, unless you're selling one of those ambient noise discs at Target.

3. 31 BUMRUSH
Now that's more like it. I wish the hook were a bit more engaging, but I found it funny when the duo gives up on finishing the chorus toward the end of the track, so I'll let it slide.

4. TO YA CHEST
I dug this darker instrumental. Shawn J. Period provides a beat that is in sharp contrast to everything that's been used up until this point, and considering the fact that he produced the previous two songs himself, that's quite a feat.

5. WHERE YO SKILLZ AT?
I know this was just playing, because I read the title on the screen, and can vaguely remember the phrase in the title being used in some sort of a hook, but I can't remember anything about this track.

6. COLLABORATION OF MICS (FEAT LORD FINESSE & LORD JAMAR)
However, this song will probably be stuck in my head for quite a while. Lord Finesse and Lord Jamar (no relation) mesh well with Tame One and El Da Sensei (in fact, Lord Jamar sounds just as comfortable with this randomly-created crew as he does with his actual group, Brand Nubian), and Finesse provides a beat that sounds just fucking awesome. (I know that I could be a tad more eloquent here, but the beat is, in fact, fucking awesome, so I'm going with my original statement.)

7. THE ULTIMATE
This was the first Artifacts song I had ever heard on the radio (or, rather, the first one where I was cognizant of the group's identity). I liked it back then, but in hearing it today, it merely sounds alright. Baby Paul does an effective job of taking your ears back to the late 1990s, though, and I'm always a fan of a nostalgic throwback.

8. IT'S GETTIN' HOT
This Beatminerz track (by way of Mr. Walt) is awfully dull. Tame and El can barely keep the song above water with their lyrics. Maybe next time, guys.

9. THIS IS DA WAY
I thought the song itself was pretty good, but the ad libs, describing the artists wreaking havoc in a competitor's record label's offices, were hilarious: they describe taking all of the paper out of the fax machines! Come on, that's fucking funny! Alas, a line regarding swiping your Swingline stapler and requiring you to work on Saturday was edited for time.

10. THE INTERVIEW
A title such as "The Interview" lends itself to a skit, an interlude, or an Australian film starring Hugo Weaving, from The Matrix and V For Vendetta (which is actually not bad: if you're a fan of lower-budget indie flicks, you should put it in your queue). Thankfully, the Artifacts buck the trend and give their listeners an actual song. It's not a bad one, either.

11. BREAK IT DOWN
Meh.

12. SKWAD TRAINING
The duo make the mistake of referring their listeners to Redman's "How To Roll A Blunt" as a reference point: directing folks to a much better song than your own is always a risk, and it doesn't pay off here.

13. INGREDIENTS TO TIME TRAVEL
The goofy title seems more in line with a Kool Keith science fiction epic than a couple of guys from Jersey, but they make it work.

14. RETURN TO DA WRONGSIDE
This was a pleasant journey into some darker territory, sound-wise. Although I can't remember anything about the lyrics (I'm pretty sure one of the guys used the word "the" at some point), Shawn J. Period's beat was excellent.

15. WHO'S THIS?
I didn't care for this song.

16. THE ULTIMATE (SHOWBIZ REMIX)
I liked the Showbiz instrumental, but as a total package, the original song works a lot better. It was nice of the duo to actually change up their lyrics for the second time around, though.

FINAL THOUGHTS: That's Them is an upgrade from Between a Rock and a Hard Place, but only slightly. The beats have been elevated to a much higher degree, and although Tame One and El Da Sensei sound exactly the same as they always have, it seems as if they've stepped their game up, which is an added bonus. That's Them isn't as consistent as their debut disc, but it works much better as a cohesive project. I'm left wondering what the Artifacts would sound like today if they were to reunite.

BUY OR BURN? If you liked the first album, you probably already own this one, but for the rest of you two, the Artifacts were always unheralded in the hip hop game, and you should do everything you can to correct that mistake by picking this one up.

BEST TRACKS: "Collaboration Of Mics"; "To Ya Chest"; "31 Bumrush"; "Return To Da Wrongside"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Artifacts - Between a Rock and a Hard Place

6 comments:

  1. Max, song number two "Art of Facts" is amazing. If that beat puts you to sleep.... I don't even know haha. It shouldn't put you to sleep!

    Nice review though, Artifacts are sick as hell, a little too late to bring them attention though...
    Needless to say I've got this one and their other one.

    Good review.

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  2. I really don't have a strong opinion about this album either way, but K-Def's remix of "It's Gettin' Hot" needs to be mentioned regardless, as it is the hottest Artifacts track I've heard.

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  3. Also worth mentioning is that one-off Brick City Kids single for Rawkus which was a match made in heaven. Tame and El over Beatnuts production? Doesn't get much better.. but as far as I know, they did not break up amicably as Tame One appeared on the Half Time show several times dissing El if memory serves me correctly..

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  4. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessNovember 24, 2008

    The "I just heard this track and I can't remember it" lines are getting very tired. Perhaps it's time to revive the Nicolas Cage line. For more helpful pointers, you can check out the quality writing at my nonexistent blog.

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  5. Art of Facts and the entire That's Them album is brilliant!! There has been no decent hip-hop for at least 10 years. Artifacts beats and lyrics are genius and that should come to light sooner or later.

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  6. I can't believe there is a person in the world who doesn't like the art of facts beat.

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