If you’ve been paying much attention to hip-hop over the last 10 or 15 years, you should recognize Freddie Foxxx (aka Bumpy Knuckles) by his voice alone. Deep, tough and commandeering his voice takes hold of your attention as soon as he utters a word. An MC from way back who started rhyming in elementary school and was first on wax in 1986 (as part of the group Supreme Force), Foxxx has only released three albums but has blown apart tracks on all sorts of classic albums. He’s dropped caustic verses with memorable barbs and images on songs like Kool G Rap & Polo’s “Money in the Bank” (“Whoever opposes me and what I feel/might find their legs being replaced by steel”) and Boogie Down Productions’ “Ruff Ruff” (“I’m the maddest nigga in New York”), not to mention Gangstarr’s classic posse cut “The Militia” and songs by M.O.P., Naughty By Nature and more. On those songs and so many others—including those on his 2000 album Industry Shakedown, a verbal assault on the music industry—Foxxx sounds like he’s about to rip your head off, like he’s a giant walking around swallowing up Ja-Rules and Nellys and spitting them out without missing a step.
The drawing on the cover of his new album, The Konexion, depicts Foxxx as an enormous, angry MC, with huge biceps and a firm grip on the mic. It’s a caricature but also fitting, as on the mic Foxxx is an intimidating presence. He’s also a wicked battler. For nearly all of Konexion‘s 74 minutes, Foxxx fiercely rips apart lesser MCs (mostly, but not always, unnamed). “Show me an MC realer than me,” he begs. His rhymes are built on the imagery of pugilism and gunplayhe comes off like a larger-than-life tough guy, ready to take on all challengers. On songs like “Step Up”, Stick’ Em Up”, “Aim Cock Spit” and “Mega Bomb Dropper” he delivers metaphoric beatdowns to anyone he has beef with. Yet who his victims are is not insignificant. Most of his anger is reserved for MCs who don’t know hip-hop history, whether they’re wanna-be pop stars or trumped-up thugs who don’t have the backbone to stand behind their words. Freddie Foxxx is hardcore to the extreme, yet his intensity isn’t about greed, ego or reputation-boosting. As the album’s title hints, his anger and passion is about more than just him. It’s about being connected to something larger.
The title track spells out what’s behind Foxxx’s strength, as he begins, “I’m connected to Mom and Pops/I’m connected to B.I.G. and Pac/I’m connected to real hip-hop.” The history of hip-hop—plus the community it has built and the community that built it—is the life-force behind Konexion. Foxxx’s “posse” is more than a bunch of friends with muscles. It’s the legendary musicians that he grew up watching and imitating; the artists he’s collaborated with and built something genuine with (from Eric B. to Gangstarr to M.O.P. and onward); his parents; his children; his neighbors and friends. The foundation he stands tall on is built not on empty boasts or the pursuit of fame, but on the bonds between people, on what people can do when they stick together.
That respect for community is what makes Foxxx give his 11-year-old son his own song (“my name is Angel and what I like/is rockin on the mic and riding my bike”) and put his nephew on another song. It also fuels his sharp attacks on the music industry, as he conveys the sense that music should be produced at every level by the people who live it and care about it, not people trying to make a profit off other people’s sweat.
If Industry Shakedown didn’t convince listeners that Foxxx is firmly independent at this stage in his career, The Konexion will. Not only does Foxxx aim his wrath at the music industry and manufactured stars, he presents an album that was mostly built by him alone. Thirteen of the 18 songs were produced by Foxxx himself (as Hidden Agenda), with him creating the tracks in his home studio. While some of these are a bit routine, not nearly as distinctive as the beats crafted by Clark Kent (“Stick’em Up”) or DJ Premier (on two blazing tracks, “PAINE” and “Lazy!”), others are absolutely on fire, showing that Foxxx’s skills don’t just lie on the microphone.
Even though Foxxx goes it alone on most of the album, he always gives the impression that his friends aren’t too far from his mind, whether it’s those he’s lost or those who are still around. That the rage behind his music stems from concern for the people close to him is clear from near the album’s start (on “PAINE” he mentions confronting the “man who took my baby brother from the palm of my hand”) through to its end. Konexion closes with two apocalyptic songs built around the hurt and rage that exist in post-9/11 America. Without focusing on one theme or message, Foxxx passionately channels bitterness and outrage against the US government, the corporate-owned media and essentially anyone who kills or hurts innocent people (“what man could kill a baby?/what man could rape a lady?”). Yet he also continually hints that if the people got together they could change the face of the world. That kind of power is outside the scope of your average thug’s perspective on the world, as is the deep pain and sadness Foxxx expresses at the damage people do to each other. In the end, “konexion” represents so much more than just Foxxx’s knuckles meeting the face of a wack MC. The sort of eternal human connections he’s rhyming about run deep as rivers.
// Notes from the Road
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