It’s hard not to like a guy who shares the same stage name with one of the most notable professional wrestlers in history, especially when that same guy is a rapper who acknowledges the bloated, self-aggrandizing state of hip-hop in its present incarnation and, instead of merely complaining, actually sets out to do something about it.
Although Get Dirty Radio technically qualifies as a solo record, A.G.—AKA Andre the Giant—(née Andre Barnes), the marvelously monogrammable half of the duo A.G. and Show, doesn’t entirely leave the Show behind. In addition to a battery of West Coast producers ranging in notoriety and longevity, A.G.‘s long-time partner and collaborator is present and accounted for along with producers Madlib, Tommy Tee, Oh No, DJ Design (head of San Francisco’s Look Records), and the late J Dilla. Bringing up the rear is A.G.‘s DITC stablemate and mentor, Lord Finesse, with whom he slung battle rhymes with as a young, Bronx up-and-comer.
Jam packed with 16 songs and only one reference to Scarface‘s Tony Montana (which has become so overused of a hip-hop reference point that it rivals the everyday abuse of slinging Seinfeld or Friends quotes amongst the middle class), A.G.‘s latest is loosely based on the concept of a radio show pitch featuring the emcee as its star deejay.
What makes Get Dirty Radio so intriguing is not so much its free-flowing radio concept than it is the incorporation of both old and new, East and West. A.G. is all East Coast style with his lyrics steeped in its tradition of placing more value on complex rhyme schemes. However, the introduction of West Coast elements imbue Get Dirty Radio with that school’s particular emphasis on creating intricate musical backgrounds, relying upon rhythm and catchy melodies to sell the song as opposed to a focus on a lyrical bag of tricks.
Taking a a very in-the-trenches approach to creating Get Dirty Radio, A.G. uprooted himself from New York to San Francisco at the behest of Look Records’ DJ Design, recording the album in California to give the album a more authentic feel and broaden his own horizons as an artist.
During his seven-year absence from solo recording, A.G. had been busying himself with a slew of guest spots and touring overseas, much to the welcoming arms of European and Asian hip-hop fans. His newly-acquired status of world traveler resulted in respect for the open-minded foreign hip-hop fans encountered, as well as a seeming disgust with the “ugly American” climate that seems to be a contentious component of pride within the Stateside hip-hop scene.
Fed up with the state of the genre today and noting that “the message, the lyrics, and the content are horrible right now”, A.G. came at his latest release possessed by the spirit of an artist trying to reinvent both himself and—more ambitiously—the genre, taking a risk in putting out something that combines the best of both worlds. By that token, Get Dirty Radio becomes an olive branch that reaches out and attempts to nullify the longstanding feud and stylistic differences between East and West Coast rap artists.
Unleashing his mission statement on the world, the album’s opening track, “Frozen”, is an unusual configuration of beats and background music, meshing ‘70s funk and old school stylings in the vein of East Coast godfather Grandmaster Flash. “Frozen” keeps the rhythm flowing and then, as the title suggests, freezes, halting the fast pace with breaks in the music and serving up experimental samples in between the dizzying beat. Continuing to channel the Grandmaster, A.G.‘s “The Struggle” echoes “The Message”, updated for a new millennium.
Proving that Diggin’ Through The Crates (DITC) is more than just a crew, but a way of life, A.G. and his team of crack producers come up with a dazzling array of samples and styles to add to the disc. Piano rides account for laying down both melody and beat on “If I Wanna”, throwing in a touch of R&B to round things out. Going back even further through the record collection, “Say Yeah” incorporates a Cotton Club/Cab Calloway musical feel behind AG’s duet with Lil’ Roze, closing out the track with a rattle of hip-hop onomatopoeia.
The samples used throughout the disc range from the familiar to completely unexpected. “A Giant By Design” samples Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, while the disc’s “Outro” will make a believer out of anyone who ever thought that a harpsichord has no place in hip-hop. Regardless of how traditional or experimental the choices are, all of the samples sound full, giving considerable weight to the tracks instead of the cheesy, pseudo-Pac Man soundtracks lifted directly from an Atari console.
On the flipside, there are times when A.G. sounds a little too influenced by the West Coast sound. “Take a Ride” is rendered forgettable by the garbled, muttering chorus intoned too softly to make any impact and is a little too G-Funk for its own good.
One of the standout tracks on Get Dirty Radio is “Hip-Hop Quotable”, a veritable history lesson that stands as the genre’s equivalent of the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, a pastiche of lyrics from a variety of rap luminaries strung together by A.G. in a stunning piece that logically brings them all together. One of the last tracks which the legendary J Dilla had produced, “Hip-Hop Quotable” features lyrics by Run DMC, Missy Elliot, Snoop, Tupac, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, and Public Enemy, among others.
While bringing together the works of his more well-known peers into a single opus is no mean feat, A.G.‘s own lyrical content does not insult the intelligence of his listeners. A.G. drops numerous bits of obscure pop cultural references on the melodic “Triumph”, relaying nods at popular-within-their-niche stars from Lisa Stansfield to Felix Trinidad.
You would think that with the production roster reaching United Nations member proportions that Get Dirty Radio would suffer from Too Many Cooks Syndrome. Instead, this is where things get interesting. The array of soundsmiths adds to the radio format feel of the album, allowing for logical variations that still slay the listener with a signature sounds. Speaking of sound, there is great use of sound effects and samples throughout the disc to break things up, giving an authentic feel of rolling your very own thumb across the radio dial. Best of all, A.G. maintains a rare sense of artistic integrity while still creating something fresh.
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// Notes from the Road
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