Album Review: LARS – Last American Rock Stars

by Dustin

LARS

LARS/10

That score is not a mistake, nor is it a bad thing (it’s actually incredibly good); all will become clear in due time. Sit back in your easy chair, smoke something, and read on about a super clever project from two mainstays in the Detroit underground.

Veteran emcees King Gordy and Bizarre had been teasing a duo project for a long time, perhaps nearly a decade. Originally under the group name Davidians, the pair released multiple “street single” one-off songs in addition to regularly collaborating on each other’s solo material. In spite of this, it seemed as if the idea of a full length Davidians project had been permanently relegated to the back-burner for both emcees. This changed in 2017, when the enigmatic pair found a home for their collaboration on Magik Ninja Entertainment. The name Davidians was dropped in favor of LARS (standing for Last American Rock Stars), taking on a rocker theme that King Gordy had been toying with for years. Later the same year they released a teaser mixtape called Foul World, and announced Last American Rock Stars as their debut album. The release was slated for early 2018.

Flash forward to 2018, and they followed through on that promise. The record was finally here.

Last American Rock Stars played out like a concept album of sorts. It felt as if one was being brought along for a drug fueled bender lead by two of the wildest scumbags on Earth. Perhaps unsurprisingly the album had an incredibly macabre tone. There was this looming grimness to everything, regardless of how celebratory a song may have been. King Gordy and Bizarre played the role of degenerate rock stars perfectly, as if they were addicted to the party lifestyle to the point that consequences no longer retained their meaning; however, an awareness of the damage being done was always present. King Gordy’s fascination with individuals such as GG Allin showed significantly the the direction of LARS on this project. Ultimately the album captured the qualities that most would attribute to a outlandish-yet-grimey rockstar life: violence, sex, drugs, and criminal debauchery. These themes were presented with a lovely degree of nuance, making them seem fun as hell, but a surefire way to burn out quickly.

The concept may have been slightly loose, but it was incredibly ambitious. The chaotic nature of the events depicted on Last American Rock Stars did lead to a confusingly scattered first listen, but once everything settled it was executed quite well. It took two or three listens for everything to come together, but it was well worth the time.

Beyond that, the album just had a lot of things working in its favor. King Gordy is in his prime as a rapper right now, and it felt like he could do no wrong here. If he wasn’t bringing a spastic energy to a track, he was probably using a mesmerizingly smooth flow to dazzle the listener. He was the true highlight of the release, and songs such as “Just Got Out The County,” “California,” and “Rock N Roll” feature some of his best work on the mic in years. Bizarre was more hit-and-miss, but even his weaker verses had merit in their personality and construction of the “last true rock stars alive” theme; moreover, his stronger verses were perhaps his most entertaining since the heyday of D12. The duo had some hilarious lines scatter throughout the totally depraved lyrical content as well, which gave the album a nice sense of range. One of the most memorable moments in this regard is on “Rock N Roll”, where King Gordy boasts about being a mosh-pit starter immediately before attempt to persuade the listener to attend a LARS show because “it only costs six dollars.” Humor like that brought a lot of character to Last American Rock Stars, and it was used sparingly enough to keep everything fresh.

It should also be noted that “can we borrow y’all lawnmower?” is one of the funniest adlibs to ever appear on a rap album. Thank you, Bizarre, you are a treasure.

The featured artists were also cool, and that’s not always easy to find in underground projects. Fury, Monoxide Child (of Twiztid) and Twista had the most interesting verses, but everybody else held their own. It truly felt as if LARS were taking you to meet some of their equally (if not more) trashy friends, and it bolstered the concept wonderfully. The production was also selected and handled in an impressive manner. The blend of trap, rock, and underground throwback beats intermingled more smoothly than one may have expected. The variety did a superb job at giving each song a distinct backdrop and emotional feel. For example, tracks like “Stomp” and “I Believe I Can Fly” could not have been further removed from each other sonically, yet they both sounded perfectly at home on Last American Rock Stars. With all that in mind, King Gordy and Bizarre made excellent selections for a supporting cast and the album benefited from it hugely.

The only real issue with Last American Rock Stars was the mastering. The album got significantly quieter during and after “Lit.” At least, this is true on the Spotify release (the physical or iTunes versions may not suffer from this issue). It wasn’t a huge deal at all, though. The mixing overall is fantastic, and it’s fairly easy to slide the volume up on the later songs using one’s audio player of choice. [Update 25/02/18: mastering was not an issue on the physical copy or iTunes version, this appeared to have been exclusive to Spotify]

The reason Last American Rock Stars was so difficult to assign a score to is the fact there is no frame of reference to compare the album. It sounded like a beast entirely of its own, and the uniqueness was refreshing. They managed to turn a scattered tracklist into a musical cross between The Hangover and Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. It played through like a journey into a life that most will never live, with King Gordy and Bizarre enthusiastically inviting the listener along for the experience. The album felt dirty and taboo, but also thrilling and adventurous. It forced inhibitions out the window, and aimed to take the listener wherever it pleased. The Detroit duo may have taken a lot of years to finally come together on a project like this, but the wait meant that their potential got to be fully realized. Last American Rock Stars is absolutely a recommended listen, particularly for those wishing to dive into an album that is distinctly true to itself.

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Retrospective Review: The Entity, by King Gordy

by Dustin

kgte

The year was 2003, and in the hip-hop world all eyes were on Detroit. With Eminem rising to global mega-stardom, D12 going platinum with Devil’s Night two years prior, and Obie Trice being added into the Shady Records family, the city seemed like an unstoppable production line of rap gold. This remained true under the surface, where a blossoming underground scene was producing a plethora of incredibly talented artists. King Gordy was one. A member of the world’s “largest” group, The Fat Killahz, Gordy was somewhat an unpolished diamond at the time. He was rough around the edges, but full of soul, energy, and had a mind that could only be sculpted in the rough neighborhoods of Detroit. In fact, prior to approaching this album you should drop all preconceived notions of King Gordy. Though his reputation as the “King of Horrorcore” is well established at this point, he was a little different during the time of The Entity.

First and foremost, it’s impossible to have a discussion about The Entity without first talking about “Nightmares.” Track two on the album after an introduction skit. “Nightmares” was, for lack of a better description, the evil-bizarro-world version of “My Name Is.” King Gordy introduced himself to the listener as the Van Dyke and Harper version of Freddy Krueger, and then angrily shouted his name repeatedly so you can’t forget who he is. It is really an incredibly catchy and dark song that’s a blast to yell along with. I don’t know how King Gordy and his camp managed to make something evil so much fun to listen to, but as a way to introduce himself, it was amazing.

“Nightmares” is the perfect track to give a listen if you’re still on the fence about this album. It gives an excellent snapshot of the anger, vileness, and talent King Gordy was bringing to the table on The Entity. The music video is a lot of fun too, featuring appearances from Detroit rap icons and an additional verse which didn’t appear on the album version.

Armed and dangerous, AKs turn your brains to mush,
Mix my weed with angel dust, feds label us notorious.
(Nightmares)

Enough about that though, what about the rest of the record?

King Gordy was overflowing with an equal amount of energy on the rest of The Entity as well. There was not a single track on the entire album where he phoned in a vocal performance, putting his own spin on long-time influences such as Notorious B.I.G. and Howlin’ Wolf. The Entity primarily features Gordy’s hyper-violent angry style, but there were also a handful of very genuinely sad moments. He took a much softer tone on songs such as “No Lights” and “Nobody Hates Nothin” and provided a much needed introspective gut-punch to give the album even more personality. It’s also of note that King Gordy had an incredibly powerful sing-rap style on many of The Entity’s tracks. This is a trait that he’s retained even today, and it something that has really set him apart from many rappers. He had (and still has to this day) an incredibly rare blend of excellent writing and a super expressive, charismatic delivery. Teamed with the instrumentation on The Entity, Gordy sounded like an unstoppable force.

The production on The Entity was dirty, and distinctly Detroit flavoured. Handled by The Bass Brothers, Eminem, Silent Riot, and others such as Hex Murda, the instrumentation is gloriously cohesive and created a unique sonic environment. The way they played with elements of rock, boom-bap, and stripped back guitars, horns, and pianos still sounds fresh almost a decade and a half later. They also suited the style King Gordy was using on The Entity absolutely perfectly by providing the type of room his powerful voice needs to take the lead.

As a side note, the skits on this album were actually really well executed and added something to the overall listening experience. They built up King Gordy, and the world he lives in, to be inhumane, monstrous, and anarchistic. A lot of artists have trouble making skits that don’t detract from the album, but that wasn’t an issue for The Entity. Removing the skits would kind of make the album feel like it had missed something, and they are welcome moments even on repeat listens. The features, though placed sparingly, were also excellent on The Entity. Much like the skits, they didn’t take away from King Gordy’s presence on the album. It’s still undeniably his show throughout.

Or maybe I was just never nothing to you,
Like our friendship meant nothing and I never did nothing for you,
Evidently I been nothing since the beginning,
From out the womb until my funeral, I’ll be nothing until the ending.
(Nobody Hates Nothin’)

Though Gordy would eventually fall out with WEB Entertainment and continue to have an proficient career as a solo artist, The Entity stands as a timelessly heavy debut album. It perfectly captured the character of King Gordy: angry, in your face, and not afraid to say something risque if he knows it will piss the listener off. Street rap fans will take great joy out of the albums rawness and grit; those who found King Gordy later on in his career will enjoy the horrorcore twists on tracks like “Time to Die” and “When Darkness Falls”. Ultimately, it’s the perfect hardcore rap album – a portrait of Detroit’s rap scene at the time – that has been confusingly slept on for nearly 15 years.

Retrospective Review: Movies for the Blind, by Cage

by Dustin

mftb

Halloween is always a fun time of the year. The kiddos are out in spooky costumes collecting enough candy to become diabetic at eight years old, young adults are out in costumes slutty enough to make a stripper wince, and everyone is generally just out to have a good time. More importantly for this site however, there’s also a huge array of horror themed hip-hop out there to fit the mood of the season. We’re not talking about struggle-Juggalo horrorcore however. What we want to discuss is the artists that went deeper, combining horror elements with conventional hip-hop to create near-movie like albums.

Welcome to Extraordinary Nobodies’ first ever Halloween Week, where we will have a look at four of our favorite horror inspired albums for an entire week leading up to Halloween (though surely you have figured that out by now).

The first album on the menu is perhaps the least Halloween-flavoured of the bunch, but it’s got one foot firmly planted in the horror genre. Cage’s Movies for the Blind, released in 2002, combined shock rap with New York hip-hop in a way not many had attempted. Though he’s probably most notorious for a short lived beef with rap megastar Eminem, Cage’s first two releases are regarded by many as underground classics. Movies for the Blind started it all, and it’s a record that will leave you feeling utterly disgusted in the best way possible.

Lyrically, Movies for the Blind is the ultimate channeling of rage, drug abuse, and mental illness into bar after bar of tantalizingly shocking lines. Setting the tone is an album opener with Cage expressing an unbridled affinity for PCP and destruction. The album doesn’t quit either, with jump-scare like lyrics woven into even the most New York sounding tracks to keep you on edge. No content is off the table on this record. Murder, suicide, and violence find themselves as staples on what is a freak-show of atrocities. Dips into the norm are rare, but when they do happen it serves as a necessary break from the amazingly grotesque images Cage paints with his words.

Blue collar to corporate blessed the unfortunate,
Like when I put my foot down that bitch still aborted it,
Stuck the canister under my jacket like the lucky one,
‘Uh, sir you can’t leave with that,’ bitch this my fucking son!
(Too Much)

Unlike Hell’s Winter, which saw Cage take a more introspective approach to his music, Movies for the Blind lacks any form of self-awareness. It is an album with an emcee at his most unhinged, unloading rage and hate at anyone who will listen. It’s beautifully executed, and forces you to feel a level of discomfort that most horrorcore albums simply haven’t been able to achieve.

His charisma is also undeniable. It gets to the point that he nearly comes across as a sociopath.

I’m a suicidal failure, look my life’s a failure,
I can’t make it in rap, even my birth’s an error,
Do what I can to catch a quick death,
But I’m meant to be here and that’s the fuckin’ hell I live with.
(Suicidal Failure)

Interestingly, the production on Movies for the Blind is relatively subdue and typical for the underground New York scene at the time. The album featured production primarily by DJ Mighty Mi, but also the likes of El-P, Necro, and Camu Tao (plus a handful of others). With the lineup, it’s no surprise that the sound is so distinctly east coast. Movies for the Blind fools you into nodding along with the gritty production, while throwing lines about suicide and death in your face. The contrast is absolutely wonderful to experience; moreover, the instrumentals are brilliantly cohesive throughout.

Movies for the Blind may not be the ultimate Halloween record, but there are qualities to it that definitely make it a terrifying listening. It’s quite interesting how this album plays out like a series of short snuff films. It’s more disturbing than scary, but it remains as grimy today as it was 14 years ago upon release. Movies for the Blind is also a gem from a time where Definitive Jux and Eastern Conference (the latter of which would release the album) were just beginning to take over the New York underground scene. Whether you’re interested in records from that era, or just looking for something gory to celebrate Halloween, Movies for the Blind remains an underground classic that is wholeheartedly recommendable.

Not for the faint of heart, however.