Filed under: Album Reviews
This duo, hailing from New Jersey, need little introduction in serious hip hop circles. Credited as the founders of ‘backpack hip hop’ due to their adherence to the fundamentals of the culture, their influence on mid-90s rap is undeniable. Starting off as graffiti writers and immersing themselves in the world of bombing (which their first album heavily references) meant that they were embraced by purists who longed for the passing days of golden era rap.
‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’ dropped in ’94 off the back of the underground smash ‘Wrong Side Of Da Tracks’. The production roster speaks for itself with contributions from Buckwild, T-Ray and Redman and work on the boards was also aided by the MCs themselves. The resulting beats are nothing short of bangin’. Highlights for me include ‘Lower Da Boom’ featuring one of the richest, warmest basslines that I can think of in the genre’s history and ‘Whayback’ which tips its hat to the essential elements of the culture that were becoming lost as hip hop crossed-over with increasing velocity. El Da Sensei and Tame One rip through verses with passion and energy, detailing late night visits to train yards and the benefits of smoking large quantities of ‘phat fuckin’ phillies’.
Considering the strength of the debut, ‘That’s Them’ is perhaps an even greater accomplishment. Shawn J-Period contributes heavily with production and an appearance from the funkyman himself, Lord Finesse, is worthy of a special mention. The snares are crisp, the kicks resonate deep within your ear and the basslines raise the hairs on your neck: I love the production on this album. This is not to detract from the highly engaging flow of El and Tame One that treats wack MCs with the respect they deserve; the Artifacts are, after all, ‘the best in this MC fest’.
The two albums featured here represent blueprints for the perfect underground rap album and are an essential addition to any self-respecting follower of the culture’s collection. Amazingly, after a split in ’97, both MCs have continued to produce music of high quality and you should consider it your duty to search these works out. How many other groups can you name that have achieved such a feat in a musical tradition that seems characterised by a ‘fall off’ in the latter stages of an artist’s career? You can’t front on their contribution to the culture in its entirety and if you don’t know, now you know…