Delinquent Habits were all over MTV in 1996 with “Tres Delinquentes”, a snappy hip-hop track with a hook supplied by mariachi trumpets. At the time perceived by some (or at least me), to be Cypress Hill tagalongs, perhaps due to Sen Dog’s production on their debut, Delinquent Habits have since blown past any such thoughts, and made the thinkers ashamed that they ever had them, by creating their own unique, upbeat brand of hip-hop.
While Delinquent Habits do share a funk influence, bilingual rhyming skills and a love for marijuana with Cypress Hill, they actually have more in common with the straight-up-rhymers of California, groups like Jurrasic 5 and The People Under the Stairs, whose goal is to keep hip-hop moving in a positive, fun direction while staying true to its history.
Tres Delinquentes’ two MCs, Kemo and Ives, are nimble wordsmiths whose main goal is to generate positive vibes. They alternately rap in English, Spanish and Spanglish, and are continually supported by a big, uptempo backdrop of booming bass, quick scratches and a live funk groove, supplied by O.G. Styles. There’s also Latin rhythms here and there, as on “Return of the Tres”, which, as the title indicates, contains the catchy, bright trumpets of their previous hit single.
The mood throughout Merry Go Round, Tres Delinquentes’ third album, is upbeat and optimistic, yet this isn’t any “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”-type nonsense. This trio’s music is rooted in the tough realities of urban life in the U.S. As they put it, they “Came to make you feel good, make you feel real good, bringing love from the hood.” They’re trying to inject hope and positivity into hip-hop, but they’re doing so without ignoring the harsh facts of life. Instead of dreaming the darkness away, they confront it, and present an alternative through their music. On “No Sense”, for example, they get across the idea that life is difficult, that everything seems turned against you, but they also communicate the idea that there’s no sense in being tense and paranoid all the time, that the best way out is to try to see with the purity you had as a child, to try to look at things in an optimistic way.
This message is complemented a hundredfold by the lively, energetic music. The music takes a mellow turn around track seven, the title track, as the ganja soaks in to the group’s mood. There’s not only party jams here, but also soulful hip-hop ballads and meditations, three of which are augmented by guest singer Michelle. The middle section of the album goes this more slowed down, reflective route, but then gets even more revved-up than before with one of the album’s freshest tracks, “House of the Rising Drum”.
Delinquent Habits’ Merry Go Round was originally released on their own indie label Station Thirteen (which bears a song in its name as well) and was recently picked up by Ark 21 Records. If there’s any justice in the hip-hop music industry, these songs will be as widely heard as their hit single was back in ‘96. These are genuinely talented hip-hop musicians making music to lift people up. At one point on the album one of the MCs says, “I aspire for more than gin, tonics and whores.” Throughout the album they reach much greater heights, both creatively and message-wise, pushing hip-hop in a relaxing, inspirational direction which is still realistic and street-oriented.