July 25, 2009

Reader Review: Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus (July 28, 1997)



(Since it took me forever to get to Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, it makes sense that I also haven't yet gotten to El-P's first crew, Company Flow. Their debut full-length, Funcrusher Plus, is considered an underground hip hop classic. While you two may have to wait a bit longer for my take, Alec J. Weatherwood has been kind enough to provide his views. Enjoy!)

The inlay of Funcrusher Plus, the first full-length project from Brooklyn trio Company Flow (made up of El-P, Bigg Jus, and Mr. Len, the latter of whom is a deejay and all of whom trade off on production duties), famously features the slogan “Independent as Fuck”. In the little CD booklet, the guest rappers are credited as appearing courtesy of “themselves”. You can probably already deduct that there would be no Trackmasters productions on this 1997 release, and that was probably for the better. When Funcrusher Plus came out, I unsuspectingly bought it and enjoyed its not-giving-a-shit vibe. Now, being older and having had more alcoholic beverages, I will attempt to objectively review this album.

1. BAD TOUCH EXAMPLE
The audio clips that set off Funcrusher Plus are really fucking creepy and, um, unique. Fortunately, what follows is a great introduction to the murky Company Flow sound. Bigg Jus terrorizes the low-key beat with lines like “Hardcore like Kool G Rap music made for concert piano”. El-P is no slouch either; his supersonics leave you “mute like Maggie Simpson”. Also, the two emcees start a trend: they use a shitload of words, of which about 90% are intelligible and 50% comprehensible.

2. 8 STEPS TO PERFECTION
This shit sounds like it was recorded at the old attic where I used to make music with the “help” of some speakers from the Stone Age. Grungy. Still, it fits the overall aesthetic. If you like songs with an actual song structure, you should probably stop listening to this album right now.

3. COLLUDE/INTRUDE (FEAT J. TREDS)
El-P stumbles over his words halfway through his first verse: little wonder because he uses a fuckload of them. I just realized that the reason these “songs” remain continuously interesting is because the beats are really damn good, and original, too. Guest J. Treds (of Indelible MCs fame – yeah, I'm not familiar either) does a pretty good job using a somewhat simplified version of El-P’s style.

4. BLIND
An actual hook! And a pretty good one at that. Too bad the beat isn’t very interesting; it would have been better left for Cannibal Ox to consume a few years later. I had to chuckle at El-P’s “I see through pussy like the Invisible Woman” line, though. Bigg Jus veers off a little too much in “No order fool coherency Clinton speak Egyptian” (or something) abstraction.

5. SILENCE
Bigg Jus gets a solo shot. Yeah, that’s all I’m gonna say.

6. LEGENDS
There is a dominant theme to be deciphered through the torrent of words the two gentlemen see fit to launch at us: it is their hatred of all things commercial. They started a very unfortunate trend with this, causing the majority of underground rap albums to sound like emo-rock whinefests. However, Company Flow was fucking good. So I’ll let it pass. Oh, and this is El-P’s solo shot.

7. HELP WANTED
An interlude! Well, it’s definitely disorienting. And probably supposed to convey a message, too, but I'll just skip this one.

8. POPULATION CONTROL
An absolute and undisputed underground classic. A menacing El-P production substantiates his claim that he is “vastly crapaphobic”, and Bigg Jus concludes his verse by amusingly claiming that he “secretly teach[es] background vocals in R&B clinics”. Also, listen closely and you’ll hear R.A. the Rugged Man rambling by way of hook.

9. LUNE TNS
A more conventional-sounding beat, courtesy of Mr. Jus. If you’re well versed in underground NYC culture, you may recognize some of the trillions of graffiti writers that Bigg Jus shouts out. I’m not, so I don’t, something which Mr. Jus tacitly recognized by saying “for n----z who don’t understand/this obviously wasn’t made for you/so fuck you!” Thanks man, I just spent my fucking money on your CD!

10. DEFINITIVE
Company Flow definitely has a bit of a problem with hooks. For instance, on this song El-P mumbles “it’s just the chorus, it’s just the chorus”. It probably has something to do with being independent as fuck. Still, an entertaining song with scratches by the third CoFlow member, Mr. Len.

11. LENCORCISM
Hey, another interlude! Still, hearing Mr. Len get busy over a paranoid breakbeat = I’m not mad.

12. 89.9 DETRIMENTAL
Note that over the span of the last 8 “songs” there has only been one song where all members of Company Flow actually participate. The fuck? Otherwise, this is a nice radio freestyle, even though El-P’s continuing creepy references to “evil anus letting off stinkers” and “pussy rapper get the donkey cock” are beginning to get on my nerves.

13.VITAL NERVE (FEAT BMS)
BMS (who?) shows up, and probably wrote the hook, too: there is even a bridge! El-P actually drops a 16 instead of a 400-bar verse over the beat, which is the same as the radio freestyle before. Unfortunately, El-P was too close to vast amounts of Red Bull while recording, so he drops some 20 bars plus some shit-talking at the end, even though the song was just fine.

14. TRAGEDY OF WAR (IN III PARTS)
El-P and Bigg Jus reunite (that took a while) and show why they should always rap together. Even Mr. Len joins in the fun, which makes it a triple tragedy (I’m just saying, that's kind of the title). Nice steel drums, Len. This beat is extra gritty and paranoid.

15. THE FIRE IN WHICH YOU BURN (FEAT BREEZLY BREWIN' & J. TREDS)
Another undisputed underground classic. To show its insane brilliance, I will simply present a choice quote courtesy of each of the featured gentlemen:

Brewin': “Stay pleasant to the ears/just think of Lauryn Hill on phone sexing”.

J. Treds: “On the mic I've got more presence than attendance in a class of schizophrenics”.

El P: “Even when I say nothing it's a beautiful use of negative space”.

Bigg Jus: “Coming at you in a blazing orange hunting vest”. (Catch the odd one out!)

These four guys should form a group. Too bad it’ll never happen. Who remembers Breezly Brewin'? Who remembers Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves? Damn, I’m getting older.

16. KRAZY KINGS
Decadent underground rap. Tasty. Bigg Jus (on his own again) achieves a perfect mix between his crazy space talk and his NYC graffiti aesthetic.

17. LAST GOOD SLEEP
A banging beat serves as fitting backdrop to El-P’s deeply personal story. A bit strange after almost an hour of space Pentium II 3dfx rap, but this is still a great song, proving El-P is more than just a walking dictionary who strings together endless punchlines.

18. INFO KILL II
Features Bigg Jus and El-P proving why they are better than you over a very atmospheric El-P instrumental. El-P ends things with a monster 40 bar verse, and if you’ve gotten this far you probably like that sort of thing.

19. FUNCRUSH SCRATCH
Which reminds me, we need more deejaying on modern rap albums. Preferably with the DJ making his (or her!) own beat to scratch to. Good way to close off an album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Funcrusher Plus is one hell of a listening experience. It would be interesting to count the number of words used (I don’t care nearly enough to actually do it) and compare them to, say, a Plies record. While this can become tedious, especially around the middle of the disc, I still admire Company Flow for having the sheer balls to push such an uncompromising product unto the minds of innocent young hip-hop lovers like myself. It’s aged pretty well and the good songs are really just like Lauryn Hill on phone sexing. Lauryn Hill back in 1997, anyway.

BUY OR BURN? For the love of music, buy this.

BEST TRACKS: "8 Steps to Perfection"; "Population Control"; "The Fire in Which You Burn"; "Krazy Kings"; "Last Good Sleep"

- Alec J. Weatherwood

(Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below. If you have something to say about your favorite album, you can also contribute by hitting me at the e-mail in the top right.)

9 comments:

  1. Can someone please, in simple terms, explain why El-P is a big deal? God knows I've tried to figure it out. I've got ISWYD, I know most of his production-work, and dude uses his position as label-head to hop on more shit than Hova c. 2001.

    But at the end of the day, I can't get past the fact that he doesn't make music. Unless of course speed-reading "lyrics" you wrote after free-basing a combination of angry tears and homemade meth over industrial noise counts as something.

    I don't hate Plies, I don't hate T-Pain, I don't hate things that people don't even take as serious. But there is no one who garners anywhere near the respect that dude gets that I feel so strongly confounded by. Honestly, what is the appeal that I'm missing???

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    1. He's a savior in the "backpack" community since he looks like so many of them (white) and raps about space or some shit. I wonder what they think of him working with Killer Mike? This cd is pretty cool, sort of reminds me of being high as fuck and stuck in your own head. Or maybe on shrooms.

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  2. @ eric my long ass response got REFRESHED so yo think of him like a multisylablic fix that you get after listening to hours of crunk with your friends.

    I loved that review. That was comprehensive as fuck.

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  3. Got this album cos of this review, very impressed. Keep it up, guys.

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  4. nice review, i thought this album would be alot boring because of alien conspiracy theories, but after i bought this, i was really entertained

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  5. Bought it when it dropped and most of the singles, saw then perform "End To End Burnerz" on the Jo Wiley show (why the fuck is that not on youtube?!? THE best hip-hop performance I've ever seen on television)....then they split up. Equals two good songs per (solo) album. "Fendi Shoe Bomber" was ill, though.

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  6. AnonymousJuly 17, 2011

    @eric to many hip-hop fans especially underground fans el-p is seen as someone who is refreshing in the genre since its so different and he is so dedicated to hip-hop and music in general. He isn't trying to sell a brand or hype himself up but his main point is to put out the best music possible. Along with his work with Company Flow and his solo releases his production for other artists such as Cannibal Ox and Mr. Lif is incredible. He seems to be an authentic guy who loves music, just check out his Def Jux label, so many incredible artists and albums have been released, but like all music its not for all.

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  7. best album ever made...

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  8. This is my favorite review on this site last comment 2011 damn no one will see this

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