Kansas City hip-hop veterans Brother of Moses and Leonard D make a bid for wider undie cred on their debut, Necks Move. Indeed, the record lives up to its name with fascinating beat collages ideal for the canned soundtrack of the omphaloskeptic. However, the literalism of the title also gives away the album’s weakness: lack of depth. While the sound of Necks is woven with great intricacy and skill, the final pattern is confused and unclear. Composed of party-line underground rhetoric—self-empowerment, loyalty, communal pride, f—- The Man—with little imagination or creativity, well-meaning thoughts hardly gel and subsequently lose effectiveness. Necks is a frustrating listen because talent is apparent, but delivers inconsistently.
Much of the appeal and lack thereof are immediately apparent. Opener “Building” harkens back “to the Aboriginal nature” over quiet storm pianos that offer sustained harmonics, while occasional chromatic koto-type flourishes accent the track. The sound is lush and the production shows noteworthy attention. BoM gets high like Zion I-like tones, but when he starts on a thought about sacrifice, “Leave our homes / But the children they’re alone / We’re building”, the familiar Stone Age, hunter-gatherer mode of male thought rears its ugly head. Even Kanye claims to be for the kiiids, leaving the line several notches shy of the Handle Yo’ Business bar. Similarly, “Rock the Beat” attempts to rock weak MCs over a beat box loop and MPC-style drums, but again buckles under weak generalizations like, “Support the underground / Humble sounds / Ain’t no braggin’.” While the thought applies to BoM’s admirable sense of humility, the same cannot be said of his peers, let alone an entire genre. Although these are admitted details, they are also lead lines in their respective verses. Placing thoughts with little backing in such an open space only invites the criticism.
Generalizations and clichés tank much of the flavorful style SoM exhibits. “War of Words” attempts to spearhead the left to action, but becomes a meandering conspiracy theory track: “Every momma in the hood has a lost son”; “One hundred foot hurdles they place in front of us”; “Want the white and the rich to live comfortably”; “Equality through mind control.” Certainly, each point interconnects, just not as a stream of consciousness laundry list. Good intentions also become misguided, such as on “Suggestions”, a track dedicated to the “ladies that are victims of domestic abuse.” While the topic is rarely, if ever, broached in pop music, SoM chooses a questionable portrait; he opens with, “Marry a rich man / Is what your momma said.” If art speaks principally through representations, then how does golddigging (nurtured, not nature, of course) help the case for a sex already beleagured with said reputation? Ultimately, the same generalizations perpetrated by the media to help reduce art into digestible movements and instances have cycled back to the art-making process for Deep Thinkers. In their one-sheets, BoM continues in the line of hip hop as a Black CNN by likening himself to a “news reporter”, a statement made with a degree of accuracy considering his observational prowess on “Here We Are.” “They chillin’ in the castle / While we get harassed still”, he spits, inadvertently yet artfully drawing parallels between the ghettos of the world; even KC has its Fort Knox. However, for every pointed observation comes a “Cop is a cop / A cop is a pig” line. To further trim the weight from BoM’s verses, he rushes raps over some smooth jazz loops, stuttering kicks, and rolling snares, sounding especially awkward over the chorus where he rushes to squeeze in lines over the peaks of the beats; words get mushed together to the point where the lines are difficult to decipher. In each of these instances, verses cover trodden ground. And with soil so compacted and dehydrated, a far stronger dig, a comprehensive expedition must be planned in order to reveal new findings.
Necks perks up when the focus is placed completely on the consistent production. Lenny D cuts loose on instrumental tracks like “Sideshow”, spackling 6/8 vibe runs with a scratch’n paste composition filled with breaks and cuts over classic lines from the Beasties, Rakim, etc. In contrast to the bold b-boy stance of DJ/producers in Deep Concentration, the track creepy crawls in the Disneyland Haunted House sense, making it more fun than fearsome. Nevertheless, Lenny D gives nods aplenty to the greats, Premier (scratch ‘choruses’) and Shadow (re-cuts harp lines to recreate Giorgio’s “Tears”). “Kiss the Sky” steeps the album further in yesterday’s junglist tapes, stuttering and skittering drums like a Squarepusher track. Although the track speeds away, Lenny D chooses flurry over fury, infusing Greek folk and snippets of Meth, KRS, and ODB over the two-step style track. His signature sensitivity again comes to the fore as soft strings waft over each bar like velvet. Admittedly, the closing “Search and Destroy” sounds like a lost track from a Nineties R.A.W. tape by baring the most teeth, but little else, thus supporting the contention that Lenny D’s strength on Necks is not the hardcore, but the heartcore.
Although Necks lags with inconsistency, the group still enjoys the strength of a strong local reputation (the album was previously released locally on Datura) and a timely eclectic aesthetic. In other words, the album does contain its marketable aspects and will subsequently appeal in the way Zion I made a splash several years back. Once again, as the press release suggests, this could be one of those records that “even the saddest emo kid (hipsters unite!), the most amped up raver (the kids dragging their duffle-bag pant legs through the corn fields), the most pissed off punk (the hip undie, ah yes), and the most down (re: underground) hip-hop head (re: white kid with money) can vibe with.” Market demands aside, the duo exhibits strength and talent that will hopefully shape and grow. Like a slow nod, say yes y’all.