Cincinnati Hip Hop is in full surge mode. Talented, creative acts are emanating from the streets to the universities, and artists are increasingly receiving regional and national attention for their skills. DJ/producer Hi-Tek's teaming with Talib Kweli and his own solo venture at the start of the millennium put the often-maligned city's name in popular songs, and now Reds/Bengals logos regularly appear in Rap videos (despite the teams' horrid on-field reps). Within the Hip-Hop consciousness, Cincinnati is at least a blip on the radar again.
The word-of-mouth Hip-Hop underground has most readily embraced local acts, be they socially conscious sages, old-school throwbacks or even street-wise rollers. But to rise above the fray, a breakthrough seems crucial. And listening to Kinkynasti, the new long-player from Cincinnati quartet Five Deez, one might be imminent.
The Deez, founded by MC/producers Fat Jon and Pase Rock, kicked things off with an underground buzz via their Blue Light Special EP at the tail-end of the last century. Two years later, filled out by like-mindedly inventive rappers Sonic and Kyle David, Koolmotor generated further acclaim, leading to tours from the U.S. to Japan. The band's intelligent musical mix and mind-warping flow caught the attention of fellow limit-pushers like Tortoise (the "Post Rock" group remixed a track from their debut) and Pole, the nom-de-plume of Berlin-based laptop electronicist Stefan Barker, who invited Fat Jon to collaborate with him on several tracks from his self-titled 2003 release.
Jon now lives and works in Berlin, allowing him to work with other Electronica artists and, more importantly, meaning the Deez's reach now spans oceans.
Their first album to get the really big "push," Kinkynasti (released on Brooklyn-based !K7 Records) stands as one of the most engrossing Hip-Hop albums of 2003, appeasing the more enlightened listener with its imaginative musical assemblage and riveting rhyme schemes, but also containing enough ear-yanking, yet non-pandering hooks (often via buoyant vocal choruses) to lure in the most casual Hip-Hop buff. At once cerebral and good-naturedly playful, Five Deez shuns gimmickry to tackle Hip Hop as an art form.
The Deez throw down the gauntlet on the title cut, making their case that detractors who "mistook us for some neo-Soul Gospel rappers" need to "shut the fuck up or get shut the fuck down." A chip on their shoulders? Perhaps. But the roughneck bravado and face-slapping rhymes are delivered with the vintage street proficiency of classic Rap — the Deez's words are their bullets; their expanded mindset is their arsenal. Their wordplay exhibitions — which exude way more than just MC one-upmanship — are more like something out of a slam-dunk competition, leveling a phrase above the net before swooping it through their legs and two-handedly jamming it home. The group members show a telepathic connection to each other; like a Jazz band, their distinct styles merge into a oneness of rhyme distribution that bleeds together seamlessly.
Fat Jon's ingenious production back up the serpentine flow. Like prime Bomb Squad, Jon creates a cascading wall of trill, stabbing samples, then pulls in a punctuating horn riff or lushly orchestrated string section. Rhythmically, the album deftly touches on Techno-wise dance excursions, hydraulic bounce and down-tempo suppleness. "Funky" leads the listener to believe Jon's head is an encyclopedia of Hip Hop, as he pulls off the unbelievable feat of making the old Miami bass jam sound fresh (even quoting 2 Live Crew in the lyrics!). The music, like the lyrical content, doesn't stay still for too long, scurrying from comparisons to any one specific entity. On the instrumental cut, "The Ocean," for example, they display a chill-out, ambient mastery akin to best of the IDM masters. The album's elasticity is its greatest asset, and its forward-looking, past-respecting vibe is a luminous display of Hip Hop at its finest.
As the purple-filtered album cover suggests, Kinkynasti is Hip Hop in resilient Technicolor, leaving the two-dimensional, black-and-white tales of urban toughness to the unenlightened. Rappers often talk about their next album being some "next level shit." The Five Deez are floors above them already: The penthouse is full and the sky's the limit. It should be exhilarating to see where they take us next.
FIVE DEEZ album, Kinkynasti, is in stores now. Song samples and more on the album can be found at k7.com.