Space Age Beats, Stone Age Rhymes
“If your pussy’s half as tight as your game / Use your sex as a weapon / And show me how your aim is.”
That line From “Solsa” is what sticks in your mind after listening to Shadow Huntaz’ sophomore album, Valley of the Shadow. You can dress your hip-hop up in all kinds of indie credibility and innovative production, but sometimes it’s the same shit, different day. According to its press kit, Shadow Huntaz is a “para-military organization; not militant, but with a sense of responsibility”. You have to wonder to whom they feel responsible.
American MCs Breaf, Dream, and Non are the Huntaz in question, and on this, their sophomore release, they rhyme at breakneck speed—almost so fast that you don’t realize they really have nothing to say. Each MC’s delivery is tight but undistinguished, and a free-associating stream of consciousness is their style of wordplay. When a couplet catches your ear, it’s usually boasting / threatening, baiting other MCs, or baiting women, none in a particularly creative or clever fashion. Otherwise, it’s stringing five dollar words together, seemingly at random. Sometimes the gunplay is a metaphor for lyrical skills, sometimes not.
From “Radically”: “Rappers blow hot air / assholes farting in bottles.”
From “My Geez”: “Fuck what ya’ heard / Now it’s what you’re hearin’.”
From “Deander”: “I’m in the forest / Can’t see the trees.”
From “2020”: “Left brain / Synaptic / Dramedy overkill.”
From “Do What I Want To”: “Out the frying pan / Jump straight into the flame.”
From “Rulez”: “My mind opens like a cash register / Cha-ching!”
At first, the vacuous lyrics are belied by the truly progressive production, provided by Dutch team the Funcken brothers. Heavily influenced by Intelligent Dance Music, they fill Valley with bleeps, gurgles, and clipped rhythms. Everything’s immaculate, covered in a cold, metallic sheen that makes each song a descent into a not-so-friendly otherworld.
The harrowing, exciting production helps give Valley a few strong moments. “Massive” gets into a pulsating, cavernous groove, with what sounds like metal being twisted underwater in the background. “Do What I Want To” manages a nice vocal hook. “Y”, with its electro bassline, in-your-face chorus; and shimmering, drifting keyboards, gives a hint of what Shadow Huntaz could become, and Valley could have been. Ditto “The Nattie”, which surges along nicely and actually includes some above-the-bar lines like, “Life’s a livin’ test / It’s killin’ time until death.” These tracks have the edge that Massive Attack was going for on its last couple albums, but couldn’t quite find.
But a few tracks can’t save Valley from giving the overall impression that it’s an album that hip-hop and techno hipsters might think they should like, but secretly can’t get into. “Pevic” and “My Geez” are downright unlistenable, aural car crashes that are in no way “arty”. The downside of the Funcken brothers’ production is that it’s completely amelodic and lacks the crucial hip-hop ingredient of charisma.
When bands decide to go underground and adopt a sound and philosophy that purports to be new and progressive, they do take on a certain responsibility. So when Valley of the Shadow fails to hold up its end of the bargain, it’s all the more insulting.