The Strange Force
Record label: self-released
Release date: early 2003
You know the underground hip-hop market’s flooded when there’s just too much damn music to sift through. Check out Sandbox Automatic sometime and see if all the new stuff in stock doesn’t make your head spin. Money’s tight and times are hard, so heads have got to be choosy. For that reason, it’s nice when joints get thrown my way. Such was the case with the new album from ESP, a Brooklyn hip-hop collective holdin’ it down for the true school. Eight members strong, The Strange Force covers the bases for rhyme sayers, beat diggers, and turntable chefs. The beats stay airtight with production handled by Angel Dust, Mista Mayday, and Unpaid Bill. Going beyond the beats, all three spit lyrics alongside Dazz the Starchild, Topix, Hired Gun, and Luck D. DJ Hoodoo rounds out the crew.
There’s enough diversity in rhyme styles to keep you interested. Bill and Mayday seem like the most laid back in the crew, but no slouches on the mic. Angel Dust and Hired Gun are a bit more left of center and cerebral. Like Dave of De La Soul once said, they’re “tryin’ to pop a hole in your Yankee cap.” As for Luck D and Topix, they just wanna take your head off. Gritty, grimy, and stressed somethin’ terrible, I wouldn’t be surprised if they eat wack MCs for breakfast. ESP clearly lives for the underground, but doesn’t spend every waking moment talking about how much they love hip-hop. They’d rather show and prove. And while “For The Love” opens the album on some “I love hip-hop” steez, it’s followed by the battle rhyme frenzy of “Built From The Ground Up” and the mental anguish of “Paranoia.” They’re arguably best during moments of introspection or social commentary. “Elevate” and “Resultant Wave” stand out from the rest just for how the lyrics and production weave together - reflective and effective. Ten tracks and not a throwaway in the bunch, this is local hip-hop that gives heads hope at the end of the day. That’s more than can be said for quite a few within the under that needed to stay buried to begin with.