Bob is a defender of culture. When he’s not documenting San Diego history as his rap alter-ego, Stuntdouble, you can find him leading film discussions at the Central Library, promoting independent music at Tower Bar, and playing watchdog to the local media. Bob’s activism in the arts is guided by his strong views. Make no mistake: Bob isn’t just opinionated–he’s insightful.
Thankfully, Bob’s decided to share some of his insight in regards to local rap shit. For this outing, he almost-but-not-really reviews Scatter Brain & V-Rock’s recent album, Madness and Murder vol. 1, which is available at Scatter Brain’s site, Active Psycho.
First of all, I want to preface this review by saying that it’s not really a review. I am not a music journalist. I have no business writing anything that could be mistaken as “music critique”. Consider this article more of a recommendation than review. Being an artist myself and part of the same scene as the subject of this “review”, I absolutely lack objectivity.
Madness and Murder vol. 1 by Scatter Brain and V-Rock is one of the strongest releases in San Diego’s recent history. Coming in way too short at just nine tracks, M&MV1 is basically lacking in hooks, heavy guest appearances, skits and any other filler that your average rap dudes pepper their Cornish-game-hens-of-an-album with in an attempt to make them look more like turkey dinners. While that’s not always a bad thing (see: every Dr. Dre album), it’s a relief to be spared this formulaic approach in lieu of something more stripped down, showcasing straightforward talent and ability.
The album begins with the track “Scatter Brain En Brasil”. It opens with an (obviously) Latin-esque loop and an unassuming vocal sample introducing you to V-Rock’s colleague and friend, and of course “your friend”. It’s with this last phrase that the song takes on a different tone and Scatter Brain sets up and launches into an extended rhyme:
I’m a painted skull with an SD fitted hat
On the same boulevard where I met Grim Fiction at
…At the symphony, outlast if you dissin’ me
Time is money and they callin’ me Infinity
When I first heard this track, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. V-Rock simply let the loop ride without throwing drums underneath. It’s uptempo and lighter than most things I had heard from him. Also, I’m used to Scatter Brain over slower, darker and more low-end heavy beats. Still, after a few listens I found it to work for me. In the end, it showcased the duo’s versatility and threw a curveball with the first track.
Throughout the album, we are given multisyllabic, multi-word rhyme structures that land often on the two as well as the four. On top of that, almost all of the content is shit-talking, drug-referencing randomness that can be separated at basically any single bar, couplet or quatrain to stand on its own while still adhering to cohesive themes and moods, enough to bring you through a song without the use of a specific narrative or storyline. Simply put: this shit is rap music.
I spit a vicious plague, shit you can’t disengage
Got your bitch afraid, I’m like Eminem mixed with Cage
Not to be outdone, producer V-Rock comes with an incredibly strong showing throughout the entire album. Probably the only reason that this album works without all the extra bells and whistles mentioned above is the quality of the beats. Well-selected samples, proper matching and a grimey sound while still coming off polished. V-Rock sets the timbre of the album with his own distinct signature. While it doesn’t sound like he’s using drum loops for his breaks, it does sound like he sampled, chopped and programmed his drums. That alone scores points in my book.
The crown jewel of the album is the impeccable “FEMA Camp Scripture”. With an opening loop of bassline and (what sounds like) a harpsichord, coupled with a chopped-and-screwed vocal sample deriding the ill effects of LSD, Scatter Brain expels:
Don’t hate, I put your throat where this rope’s at
And feed you Prozac, and make you hit the dusty dope sack
I’ll blaze a snow cap, aim a rusty pistol at the Pope’s hat
The track uses the original loop’s sample (I’m guessing) to provide the drums. While some might say it’s lacking because of this, the sample’s low-hitting afterthought of a drum allows the vocals to set the cadence. Scatter Brain, being a beatsmith himself, has excellent timing as an emcee and coupled with V-Rock’s well-paced bassline carries the song through rather well, without the need for loud drums that could possibly disrupt the character of the track.
The physical product harkens back to the days of a 10-track Illmatic. Without drawing comparisons to the two, this record sets a bar for the San Diego scene. Scatter Brain as an emcee is able to grasp San Diego’s nonchalant abstract vocal steez without sounding like he’s trying to pull one over on the crowd. There is no sleight-of-hand on this album. You get bars that can be appreciated and enjoyed line for line. There is no fast paced consonant enunciation with wiggling-fingers-in-your-face-type-flow here. V-Rock completes the package with a well-rounded stamp. While he knows where his strengths lie, he is also willing to challenge the listener as well as the emcee he is working with. Digger ethics and an ear for production coupled with a savage, technical flow makes for realized promise from both of these solo artists as a duo.