In many ways hip-hop’s regional qualities in the ‘90s compare to those of jazz music in the ‘50s. The New York sound was full of liveliness – be-bop was played fast and hardly ever let you have a breath, except maybe during the medley. It breathed the culture it lived in, and when hip-hop came to its prominence in the ‘90s with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Brand Nubian, and many others, it thrived on the same things.
As for the West Coast, the ‘50s were a time of relaxation in the jazz scene. “Cool Jazz” was laid-back and completely built off a melody. Maybe it was the influence of living on the coast, or maybe it was its desire to separate itself from what was going on in New York, but Chet Baker, Stan Getz, and Dave Brubeck were showing the world that there was something in the water across the country. In hip-hop, when Dre came along, he brought the laid back feel to the coast and introduced the world to synth heavy g-funk and the likes of Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Snoop Dogg.
On first listen, Los Angeles collective Custom Made’s Original Dynasty screams New York City in the aforementioned era. Sporting the grime and soulful beat style of early Wu-Tang Clan, it sounds like a bi-product of the NY scene (not to mention they built their reputation on the amount of mixtapes they sold, also a staple of the NY hip-hop scene). But as you delve further into the record, you begin to see its West Coast roots – the slick production, the street savvy lyricism, & the laid back delivery.
Lil’ Wayne has proved that in a year’s time, one can become the hottest rapper in the world based on mixtapes. Although Custom Made isn’t quite on the level of someone like Lil’ Wayne who’s been in the game for over a decade now, they are well on their way to being a common name in the hip-hop scene. Working to bring back gangsta rap on a much deeper level (rather than the insanely lowbrow mainstream release), Custom Made signed to the reputable indie staple, Babygrande, and have released Original Dynasty - their sophomore release that puts them on the highest level of hip-hop in 2008.
Right out of the gate with “Stack Em’ Up”, they come out swingin’ harder than Cassius Clay and blend the punchy bass that obviously represents Nas’ Illmatic days and the lyricism that exposes the streets of L.A. and the confidence of the NY scene. But some might think this album is all about comparison, and all it does it draw off the past; up until this point, though, it’s hard to say that many groups have blended these sounds so naturally and are looking so confidently into the future.
“Thug Warz” is the cream of the crop among a record full of gems. Awash in piano loops, it presents itself as the type of hip-hop ballads 2Pac was capable of perfecting on tracks like “All Bout U” – this is what the West Coast needs today, rather than its hyphy style that seems to be setting the area back. This isn’t taking into consideration folks like Murs, Blackalicious, and other independent hip-hop acts, because their mindset stays more on the underground level. Custom Made, however, has the vibe to create potential hits and make them with a high level of respect not present often throughout today’s mainstream culture.
Original Dynasty leaves boundless potential for a group that’s still fresh with plenty of charisma under their belt. While groups like The Cool Kids find themselves only among the underground scene, Custom Made has the potential to be the next big collective in hip-hop if they continue to step their game up. Let’s stop the hyphy and bring back groups that have something to say on a genuine, raw level. Let’s have Original Dynasty start a new dynasty in the world of hip-hop.
// Notes from the Road
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