When it comes to most southern rap, I can understand why a lot of people hate hip-hop. Lil’ Jon looks like a court jester, barking nonsense over cheesy synths that sounded played out when Taylor Dane was scoring hits. Judging by the media’s coverage, you would assume the whole southern hip-hop scene was filled with codeine-sipping, gold-toothed clowns.
But this isnt all that southern hip-hop has to offer. Tucked away in the hills of Georgia comes a group with some actual intellect and, get this, fresh ideas! A Piece of Strange, the new disc by Cunninlynguists, builds on their previous efforts, Will Rap for Food and Southernunderground, adding more depth and substance. While the underlying elements- soulful beats combined with thoughtful rhymes-remain intact, the group comes across as more assured to break out of the small cult following they have so far been able to amass.
The first track, �Where Will You Be� starts with the familiar Cunninlynguist sound. A pretty Spanish guitar lightly plays over the soft drums and falsetto singing in the short intro. From here Strange gets a lot harder, evident immediately on �Since When.� Towering female backing vocals underline the hard, jazzy snare, harking back to Aquemini era Outkast, especially in the Chonkeyfire-like chorus of distorted guitar.
Creeping up over the past year with his version of Jay-Z�s Black Album, producer Kno has been anointed as the subsequent torchbearer to 9th Wonder. He outdoes his previous efforts here, layering every track with a heap of urgent piano and distortion-heavy funk guitar.
At this point, I would definitely bump an instrumental copy of Strange if it weren�t for the well constructed rhymes and soulful singing of MC�s Deacon and Natti. Much of their material comes from the dysfunction surrounding their neighborhoods and the racial inequality facing young minorities. Deacon questions the abundance of juvenile arrests on �Caved In� with �they need love, not snug cuffs, federally fucked/ tis all orchestration Hans Zimmer couldn�t conduct.� Cee-Lo accompanies Deacon with his trademark rasp on the chorus.
Kno�s production stays solid throughout, climaxing on �Brain Cell,� with its ghostly vibe and trippy effects. He also backs Immortal Technique- who appears on �Never Know Why�- with a piano line straight out of a 70�s ballad. Technique spits about people�s inherited prejudices by one�s who �pimp children� and talks of the virtues of �living vicariously through my kids.�
A Piece of Strange sets the bar for southern hip-hop, lyrically and aesthetically. By releasing it at a time of extreme degradation in hip-hop, Cunninlynguists did the most punk rock thing they could have done; they put some thought into their songs.