February 17, 2010

CunninLynguists - Will Rap For Food (2001)

What typically passes for "music" from the Southern region of the United States tends to concentrate solely on getting people to dance.  Indeed, an inordinate number of songs from the area exist only to teach listeners how to do the very dance that the artist claims to have invented on the fly, in between lunch and bathroom breaks in the studio.  But the consistent theme of the sub-genre leans toward adequacy over blatant showcases of any kind of talent, with very few exceptions.

Meet a couple of the exceptions.

Kentucky's CunninLynguists, a duo made up of rapper-slash-producers Kno and Deacon the Villain (others would join up with and leave the crew, but these two were the anchors), already had a lot to overcome when they recorded and released their debut album, Will Rap For Food, in the fall of 2001.  With punchlines for days and a musical ear that reminded listeners more of the Dungeon Family than the No Limit Soldiers, the CunninLynguists readily secured a cult following and amassed friendships with like-minded artists who felt they had nowhere else to turn. 

Will Rap For Food surprises in that it sounds like nothing that could be classified as a "Southern" album.  The beats, mostly provided by Kno himself, knock, while the lyrics alternate between goofy and serious with such swiftness that you'll be convinced that Deacon, the standout of the two (although Kno gets in many good lines throughout), has already released seventeen albums, he sounds that fucking polished.

Since so many of you two have been waiting very patiently for me to get to this crew, I'll skip the bullshit and get started already.

The mandatory rap album intro. Well, at least it's short.

“Lynguistics” acts more like a proper rap album intro, in that it actually introduces the CunninLynguists to the listener. Kno and Deacon throw a bunch of punchlines at you, and surprisingly, most of them stick, and Kno's string-based production gives the track immediate replay value. This shit is nice as hell.

The overall playful tone of Will Rap For Food (which, admittedly, was only established on one song so far) shifts suddenly into much more serious territory, with Kno's instrumental taking on a reflective air as Deacon, Kno, and their guest relate the struggles of their life and how hip hop has played a vital role. Within the span of two tracks, the CunninLynguists have already proven that they can alternate between frivolous boasts and deep thoughts with the snap of their fingers, because both rappers take their shit seriously. Good work, guys.

I can't place my finger on it, but while I liked the beat on here, producer Celph Titled's work sounds artificial and empty on here, at least in comparison to the previous two tracks. I realize that sentiment is contradictory, but it is what it is. Deacon and Kno pass the mic back and forth with a palpable chemistry, though, and they work hard to overcome the song's shortcomings. The song ends without much of a conclusion, which threw me off a bit, but at least the rhymes were entertaining.

5. HEY
A brief instrumental interlude that ends kind of abruptly by design.

There isn't much to this song: Deacon and Kno string together random and unrelated fucked-up ideas for shock value's sake, except it is obvious that they're just trying to make each other laugh. And the concept works: a lot of these lines are fucking hilarious, especially at the very end, when Kno proclaims “I'll go but every Will Smith CD...with my own money!”, which is fucked up, indeed. The beat basically lays a foundation and stays the hell out of the way of the constant goofy threats, and the track is all the better for it. The skit at the very end continues the general theme from the intro, and while it is unnecessary overall, it was also kind of funny.

The most memorable thing about this track is the singing that unexpectedly closes out the song. Otherwise, everything from the beat to the lyrics sounded technically proficient, but I can't come up with any word other than boring to describe the proceedings. Oh well, they can't all be winners.

After a brief interlude, the CunninLynguists swing back to the serious side of hip hop for a track about loss: loss of a loved one, loss of childhood, loss of innocence. The instrumental maintains its overall dark tone even as it takes on an experimental flavor toward the end, which is a masterful feat in and of itself, and the lyrics force you to pay attention and even care a little bit, something that may not have happened on “Fukinwichu”. Not bad in the least.

An instrumental interlude.

The title of this gangsta rap goof is absolutely fucking brilliant: it tells the listener in four words exactly what they should expect from this track. Everyone involved has some fun with their random boasts and threats which, when taken literally, make no actual sense, but most hip hop doesn't make any sense anyway. This was most certainly not boring.

Kno gets his DJ Shadow on, mashing multiple samples together for this brief interlude. It sounds decent enough, but only the one time.

Just like “Fukinwichu” before it, “Half Animal” features an Eminem vocal sample, which made me wonder why nobody else ever seems to look at Marshall's back catalog for sound bites to mix within their own beats. (Nas gets sampled on here as well, but he definitely doesn't share the same problem.) Em's words only serve to provide the track with its title, leaving Kno and Deacon to veer off topic just to make the song sound a little better. It's alright, but it's not real.

Wow, these guys really hate their parents. The misleading title, which may give you flashbacks to the days of Alex B. Keaton (I realize that a lot of you two may have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, as Family Ties may be before your time, but I don't care), leads listeners down a narrow street where there simply isn't any room for ambiguity or the duality of mankind: these two simply hate their parents. But their litter their debate with eloquent word selections that will easily have you taking their side. Kno's line about being so poor during his childhood that he thought the poverty line was the horizon was especially touching.

This instrumental interlude sounds nothing like anything you would ever expect from the Dirty South. Which, of course, was the point.

I didn't care for this song. Sorry.

The hook isn't completely terrible, but there isn't much to it. The lyrics are, unfortunately, drowned out by Kno's beat, which is too bad, as Deacon and Kno traffic in highly inventive punchlines that get ignored when the music constantly gets in the way. Had this been mixed down differently, “Takin' The Loss” would have been one of the best tracks on Will Rap For Food, no question. Instead, it has to settle for being merely good, although the drum-and-bass breakdown at the end tips the scales a bit.

A fairly dramatic Kno instrumental that sounds a bit out of place, but hey, why the hell not? Besides, this shit is dope. It may even inspire you to be creative, which, to me, is the ultimate goal of a talented artist in any medium. So give it a spin and let the creative juices flow.

Deacon's instrumental (with an assist from his partner) sounds like the theme music to one of those Merrie Melodies shorts from Warner Brothers, which works in its favor: it gives this underground posse cut a whimsical feel that is typically absent from our chosen genre. This shit is enjoyable as hell, as rap music is supposed to be. The fact that everyone spits without relying on the oft-used crutch of a chorus helps things immensely. A great way to end the evening.

FINAL THOUGHTS: With Will Rap For Food, the CunninLynguists bring listeners on an outright entertaining adventure through a twisted version of the Dirty South, one that believes itself to be located on the East Coast. Deacon the Villain and Kno have a great chemistry behind the mic, damn near finishing each other's punchlines, which are actually pretty funny, unlike some certain mixtape rappers. Kno's production work, which takes up the majority of the Will Rap For Food, is also very highly accomplished for what is supposed to be a debut album: the man selects his samples with a master's hand, and crafts compositions that have no true regional qualifier. As a result, everything on Will Rap For Food is seen not as Southern rap music, but as music, period. I'm actually pretty pissed off that it took me this long to bring it out of the crates.

BUY OR BURN? This one's tricky. I want to tell everyone reading this review to purchase this album, because you will not regret spending the money, but it's kind of hard to find without dropping over one hundred dollars on an out-of-print copy. If you happen across it, don't hesitate to pick it up.  (Amazon.com is offering an mp3 download of the entire album for $8.99, so that may be an easy way to support the artist (and the blog, if you click on the links scattered throughout!  Shameless plug!).

BEST TRACKS: “Mic Like A Memory”; “Lynguistics”; “Not Guilty”; “616 Rewind”; “Thugged Out Since Cubscouts”; “Missing Children”; “Family Ties”; “Fukinwichu”



  1. is it just me or is the text small as fuck just on this post?

  2. GREAT REVIEW! Its been a long time ine been wanting to get around to Cunninglingusts catalog, heard the album they put out last year, on first listen sounded kinda half assed to me, but this seems phenomenal! Will pick up ASAP! Thanks for the look

  3. Is that all you're going to write? Sorry, but where are the track reviews? And, you know, everything else?

  4. It was small as fuck. It's been taken care of.

  5. thank you max now i can read the review without damaging my beautiful eyes (thats how i make my livins)

    and i must say "Celph Titled's work sounds artificial and empty on here" pretty much is the perfect summarization of every single thing celph titled has ever done

    and thats all i have to say, i'm such a hater

  6. Anonymous fails lol
    You know how about yuh click that there title thingy and then read. Hopefully you found it by now and this comment can either be helpful or useless.
    Anyways good write up, I am going to definitely check this album out on my long plane trip to B.F.E.

  7. i actually preferred it before it was fixed; thought it was some type of practical joke and i know thatdve created some hilariously angry responses.good album though and good review

  8. Good album, good review. A Piece of Strange is far superior, though... still you gotta give them much respect for such an advanced debut album!

  9. Word. I'll check it out.

  10. Album was cool. . . .I liked CunninLynguists a lot better back in the day, their new stuff is too downbeat for me, and nowadays Deacon the Villain's whole rhyme scheme and wordplay sound a bit dated and unflexible. Their best work was is and will always be A Piece of Strange.

  11. Nice one max!
    KNO is super talented.

    Lord Finesse Plz...

    But I love this review/album was well.

  13. APOS is my favorite album of all time.
    This is also gold however.

  14. Good review. This really proves that there are some people in the south who can still spit. It's a shame with all this candy rap giving the south such a bad rep. Lots of these tracks just BANG. Lynguistics has such a dope vibe to it.

  15. Thankyou for introducing me to this group, Max. This album sounds fresh and literate. And the artist name is quite a clever pun. I'm loving "Linguistics".

  16. Spandy. Yes, he's commenting again.August 07, 2012

    Hey Max, review another CunninLynguists album. I want to see if their subsequent projects are consistently good. Or that Kno album. I would appreciate that.

    1. It's in the cards. I just have to get off my lazy ass about it.