With a string of solid mixtapes and a promising regional debut, 2003’s Church and State, Supreeme have established themselves near the forefront of the Atlanta underground as complete wildcards in the Dirty South. As MTV and the radio overflow with heavily sizzling crunk and light-footed, bouncy snap music, Supreeme rep Atlanta with complete originality, trading in the drawling boasts of fellow Atlantans like Goodie MOb and Ludacris for the sharply enunciated, nimbly-flowing tales of their jet-setting international alter egos, King Self, Negashi Armada, and Dope Pope (which is, by the way, quite possibly the best rapper name I’ve heard in a while).
Church and State was a masterwork of an underground debut, the album that single-handedly floored Murs and landed them a deal on his label Record Collection. Opening with a searingly sampled, familiar sax lick and going out with the hard-hitting piano chord pounding of “Closing Statements” while incorporating a broad assortment of sounds along the way, from wailing female acapellas to slick spy-movie music, Church and State not only introduced their new, world-savvy cover personas but cemented their already-solid local reputation and built anticipation for Supremacy, Supreeme’s 2006 national debut, to a fever pitch. The album opens on a markedly different note from their previous work: the beat on “All Day (Intro)” is a mood piece of driving, dark synthesizers, while the crew comes harder with the lyrics than previously. But a few tracks in, it’s clear that this is the same old Supreeme that Atlanta hip-hop heads have come to love.
All three members flow impeccably, and they seem more comfortable in their assumed personalities this time around. As the official line goes, King Self, Negashi, and Dope Pope are street-smart but humorous and laid-back, like the Beastie Boys if they could actually lyrically dominate when they performed. Indicative of their general attitude is their press release, honestly one of the best ever: “In a nutshell, Supreeme is like the combination of James Bond, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, David Bowie, Peter Jennings, Fidel Castro, Neil Young, fine foreign chicks, Bunny Wailer, fly ass exclusive kicks…” (the list goes on for a while), and the fact that they have to be just about the only people in the world who can make “mercantilism” seem obscene. The subjects they touch on can get repetitive by the album’s close (girls, their own lyrical prowess, and girls), but they keep it fresh with their punchlines (“You niggas in white tees look like a convention of penguins”) and always-consistent flows.
Supreeme founder Dope Pope handles all of the production here, and while it’s not quite on the level of Church and State‘s sublime array of memorable beats, it complements the lyricism well and still holds its own much of the time. Dope Pope relies on the synths more than he has in the past, but he brings in new sounds like sped-up sampling (on “Winterfresh” and the addictively-sauntering “Bang Bang”) and the perfectly blaring Latin trumpets of “U Feel Lucky”. Final track “Farewell Wenches (Outro)” closes the album beautifully: the beat is smoothly-ticking drums, majestic horns, and buried soul wails, the perfect mix of nostalgia and confidence, while the trio raps out a reflection on their success, their mission, and what is to come: “All I want to do is smoke with your girl / Write poems with my niggas, conquer the world / Open a bottle of rum up and put two thumbs up”.
Touting a new record deal and the same old skills, Supreeme may not be on the top of the rap game yet, but with more albums like this, they’re definitely on their way.