August 12, 2010
Lootpack - Soundpieces: Da Antidote (June 29, 1999)
It's been brought to my attention (on more than one occasion) that Hip Hop Isn't Dead hasn't reviewed enough albums from producer/deejay Peanut Butter Wolf's label Stones Throw Records. And by "enough", I mean "any". (One of the past Reader Reviews touched on the Madvillainy project, but since I didn't tackle it myself, I'm not sure it counts.) What follows is my attempt at atonement.
Lootpack is a crew made up of DJ Romes, rapper Wildchild, and rapper-slash-producer Madlib, the lone guy that most of you two have probably heard of. This West Coast trio formed back in high school, but musically didn't do much until the made their debut appearance on the first album from Tha Alkaholiks, 21 & Over. After also popping up on their Coast II Coast, they decided that should try their hand at a project of their own, and they recorded an EP, Ill Psych Move, in 1996. That EP found its way to the ears of Peanut Butter Wolf, contracts were signed and promises were made, celebratory tacos were purchased and consumed, and Lootpack's debut album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote, was released just three years later.
Technically, this is also the only album these three have actually released, but that doesn't really matter: they pop up on each other's solo projects often enough. Madlib, especially, has carved out a niche for himself as one of hip hop's go-to producers whenever an artist is looking for mildly experimental, jazzy, and somewhat accessible boom bap. But before he was able to hit those highs and release varying styles of music through his Beat Conducta series of projects, he grew up as a part of the Lootpack crew.
Soundpieces: Da Antidote is one of those albums that underground hip hop heads love unconditionally, not unlike MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday, which I have my own issues with. It wasn't a blockbuster seller or anything, but it earned these three enough street cred to coast on the laurels of only releasing a single project. But it isn't universally beloved by everyone else: I remember reading a review in The Source that dared to only give it three-and-a-half mics, enough to call it "good" but to acknowledge that it had its faults. Famous fan DJ Premier rebuked the review and proclaimed his love for the album, especially since The Source is complete bullshit and gave three-and-a-half mic reviews to tons of discs that ended up ranging from very good to great, but after listening to Soundpieces: Da Antidote again for the first time in nearly a decade, I'm starting to believe that the former hip hop bible may have had a point.
1. DA ANTIDOTE
Kind of goofy for a rap album intro. This reminded me more than a little bit of the skits on Dr. Octagonecologyst. (“There's a horse in the hospital!”) You know, actually, this is less goofy than it is creepy as shit. You'll be skipping this one.
The title implies that this is yet another entry into that classification of rap song in which the artist (or artists) dwells on hypothetical queries. Instead, listeners receive a dramatic Madlib beat that houses some straight-up spitting. 'Lib and Wildchild aren't the best rappers in the world (in fact, truth be told, they aren't even really that good), but they make this shit entertaining as hell. The scratching at the end from DJ Romes was also a nice touch.
3. LONG AWAITED (FEAT DILATED PEOPLES)
Longtime readers may have noticed some brief references in past write-ups regarding my overall dislike for the California underground crew Dilated Peoples. While I plan on addressing that issue head-on in the near future (ooh, foreshadowing!), for now all I'll say is that this song was boring as fuck. However, to be fair, Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience could have also not made a guest appearance on here and the song would feel the exact same way, so it isn't entirely their fault. Although they certainly don't help.
4. B-BOY THEME
Always seems to cut off right when it gets interesting, but at least Wildchild sounds pretty decent over an awesomely pulsating Madlib instrumental. This was nice.
Elements of this beat reminded me of some of J-Zone's production work, but it also cements why I feel Madlib is one of the most underrated beatmakers in the genre today. (I realize that Madlib isn't exactly underrated when it comes to folks that may actually read this blog, but the rest of the world should be aware of his existence, too, as he is that good.) Wildchild also sounded alright, I suppose.
6. THE ANTHEM
Not as much of an anthem as one would expect. 'Lib's beat is inappropriately dark, and the verses all sound a bit off, but this still ended up sounding halfway decent.
7. LEVEL ZERO (FEAT MEDAPHOAR & OH NO)
Kind of dull. The rhymes from everyone involved may have sounded more engaging had 'Lib managed to keep my attention on the musical side of things. But hey, coulda, woulda, shoulda.
8. CRATE DIGGIN'
This song was oddly censored on my copy of Soundpieces: Da Antidote. On here, Madlib discusses the merits of digging through the crates for the perfect loop for the perfect moment, all over a beat that seems to cram in more than a few of those loops he found while at ye olde record shoppe. I found this interesting, even if I can't recommend it as an actual good song.
9. LAW OF PHYSICS
Madlib's beat sounds like new-school Wu-Tang material: perhaps Rae, Ghost, and Meth should have looked toward the West Coast for one of the beats on Wu-Massacre. This shit fucking rocks, almost surprisingly so.
10. FRENZ VS. ENDZ (FEAT KAZI)
Remember that one night when you were club-hopping with your friends and accidentally (and drunkenly) walked into a poetry slam in that jazz bar, across the street from where those hookers were trying to solicit that cab driver into submission, even the one with the peg leg and her left tit in the other one's eye? You don't? Well, this song provides the type of soundtrack that you may have heard during that fictional experience.
11. INTERVIEW WITH KURT
The title of this track isn't a metaphor for anything: this is literally Lootpack sitting down with Kutmasta Kurt to have a chat over tea. It would have been cooler had it been Kurt Loder, but whatever.
12. SPEAKER SMASHIN'
Wildchild and Madlib don't exactly back up their own argument on this track: they clearly aren't “the dopest emcees on Earth”. If you transcribed the verses yourself, you'll find that they make many valid points, but their overall delivery is lacking, and the chorus is fucking awful. Lib's instrumental is alright enough, though it could trip over its shoelaces and fall into annoying territory rather easily.
13. NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION
Sampling Gang Starr's “Mass Appeal” has the detrimental effect of making me want to turn this album off, just so I can listen to Hard To Earn again. Portions of 'Lib's instrumental also reminded me of Raekwon's RZA-produced “New Wu”, which is probably only because I've listened to “New Wu” again recently. The lyrics themselves are so forgettable that they inadvertently assist my mind with its incessant wandering.
14. ANSWERS (FEAT QUASIMOTO)
Ostensibly a companion piece to the earlier “Questions”, but the two songs don't owe any sort of debt to one another. Madlib, rhyming in his Quasimodo persona, uses his first verse as a practice round, and steps his game up for the remainder of the track, while Wildchild fills in the empty space. However, his beat is of no consequence whatsoever. I found myself wishing for harder drums to kick in, or another sample to layer itself over the boring fucking beat, covering it from the cold. And this song is over four minutes long. That's just torture.
15. LIKWIT FUSION (FEAT DEFARI & THA ALKAHOLIKS)
As usual, Defari fails to impress me during his brief freestyle interlude which occurs before the real song begins. (He also gets a verse of his own on the main event, on which he fares a tad bit better.) Some readers may be surprised to find Tha Liks on a Lootpack project, but you really shouldn't be, since their paths had crossed many times before. (They run in the same circles: in addition to the guest appearances mentioned above, E-Swift also recruited Madlib to help co-produce “Flappin'” for the Originoo Gunn Clappaz.) I had always wondered why 'Lib was never called upon to provide a beat for Tha Liks directly, but then I listened to this sparse beat again, and I remembered. Oh well. At least Tash and J-Ro sounded like their old selves.
Madlib's instrumental sounds like his incomplete take on what production collective The Ummah was aiming for with their work on A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes & Life. The news isn't all bad, though: Busta's sampled vocals on the hook were a nice touch, and 'Lib's verses do sound fairly polished.
17. VERBAL EXPERIMENTS (FEAT GOD'S GIFT)
The vocal sample (which you've all heard before, if you follow hip hop at all) shouldn't be at a higher volume than both the beat and the rhymes. That's a fucking shame, as this is the best that Wildchild and Madlib (along with special guest star God's Gift) have sounded for the entire album. What the hell, man?
This Wildchild freestyle is cut off before it naturally ends. A note to all rap artists: that is really fucking annoying. Cut that shit out.
The title is stupid, but this track quickly bounces along with a level of energy that is missing from most of Soundpieces: Da Antidote. The lyrics from both rappers glide up and down the beat like a roller coaster ride; the only time the track falters is when the distorted, Warren G.-style “G-Child” vocals for the fictitious “Mr. Herb” kick in. Otherwise, this was enjoyable as hell.
20. 20 QUESTIONS (FEAT QUASIMOTO)
It's probably redundant to have a song called “20 Questions” on your album when you already have an entirely different track entitled “Questions” already there. Madlib uses his Quasimodo guise (again) to ask questions (which seem to number less than twenty, unless I missed something) in a very fucking annoying manner.
21. BREAK DAT PARTY (FEAT DECLAIME)
'Lib's beat on here is among the most accessible he's ever created: there are many rappers who would be well equipped to do justice to the shuffling, party-friendly instrumental. Unfortunately, Lootpack decided to keep it for themselves, inviting their boy Declaime to make an uninteresting contribution, and Madlib's own verse outlasts its welcome fairly quickly.
22. WANNA TEST (FEAT MEDAPHOAR)
Madlib's beat sounds like B-grade Killarmy, but that is actually a good trait on here, as every rapper sounds comfortable. This wasn't terrible.
23. EPISODES (FEAT DECLAIME, GOD'S GIFT, KAZI, MEDAPHOAR, & OH NO)
This is credited as a massive posse cut between Lootpack and their BFFs (who have all appeared elsewhere on Soundpieces: Da Antidote), but 'Lib breaks it up into five separate “episodes”, or songs, all rolled up in a nice neat package. Interesting concept, but the execution was a bit lacking.
I actually liked this sampled outro a lot. Good call, guys.
FINAL THOUGHTS: While Soundpieces: Da Antidote shows sparks of creativity, especially from its producer, Madlib, the majority of it doesn't hold up very well under scrutiny: in fact, most listeners will probably find this to be a very dull listen. Madlib and Wildchild aren't skilled enough to force listeners to hang off of their every syllable: nothing on here will leave you with the urge to rewind a verse. DJ Romes, the deejay, also exists. While some of 'Lib's beats work extremely well, most of the album, which is far too lengthy for its own good, sounds incomplete. There is some entertainment value to be had, and I would most certainly check for a sophomore release, but from my vantage point, it appears that The Source may have been actually been right about Lootpack's debut. Weird.
BUY OR BURN? Sadly, I can only recommend a burn. Some of my two readers who live exclusively within the hip hop underground may already own this and dispute this entire write-up, but can anybody legitimately say that this Lootpack album changed your life and you've listened to it every day since its release in 1999? I think not, but I'm sure someone will try to disprove me in the comments. Bottom line: while some of the beats rock, this album is boring as shit. Save your cash for something better.
BEST TRACKS: “Law Of Physics”; “Weededed”; “Questions”; “Whenimondamic”