Over the past couple of years, Babygrande Records has snuck to the forefront of underground hip-hop as one of the most dependent labels, churning out repeat-worthy records that bleed consciousness and soul. With each release, Babygrande taps into the esoteric with producers that dole out slick and slippery beats and emcees who deliver rhymes with wit and prudence. More recently, the label has turned to producers to deliver these backpack-friendly fiascos, giving them a budget to execute their album with or without the addition of guest emcees, depending on the knob-fiddler’s skill on the mic. This has led to a spectrum of releases that bear the producer’s name, like Hi-Tek’s recent mainstream jaunt Hi-Teknology, Volume 2: The Chip and Bronze Nazareth’s undervalued Great Migration.
With this trend striking a chord with underground hip-hop heads, Babygrande has taken the initiative to capitalize on the “producer album” success by pushing the concept a bit further. The most recent endeavor comes from Snowgoons, a quartet of producers from Germany, who concocted their debut German Lugers from the comforts of their homeland. The record is precisely what Babygrande is known for: glossy beats, fat with chipmunk voices and rich string samples, all topped with a “who’s who” of emcees in underground hip-hop. Lugers may be a novel concept, as listeners may be intrigued by the ability for foreign producers to scoop out these types of beats, but as far as underground hip-hop goes, Snowgoons do nothing but settle on an ear-snatching four bars and set it on repeat, leaving the emcee to do the rest. This type of methodology makes Lugers an enjoyable one-time listen, but restricts the record from having any sort of replay value.
The beats on the record flow in the same vein as those programmed by Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind of the rap duo Jedi Mind Tricks. Both Snowgoons and Stoupe use sheen symphonic samples to procure a dark mood, and seldom let their beats breathe with bright samples. On Lugers, this tactic is apparent on almost every track, most of which back into the guts of the song with a dramatic and stripped-down version of the beat that follows. The album’s opener, “Heads or Tails”, featuring Chief Kamachi, Virtuoso, and Jus Allah, begins with a piano and raging vocal sample, which are shortly chopped and fitted into a slower beat that matches the intensity of its emcees’ horrorcore lyrics. Later on the album, Snowgoons allows a child’s voice speak for the first 30 seconds on “Real World”, featuring Born Unique, before the song launches out of flatness into a gloomy track built around twinkling music box sample.
The shadowy, dank beats of Lugers inevitably become cumbersome, as Snowgoons barely allow their tracks to expand and grow. “No Man’s Land”, which features Breeze Evahflowin, begins with a hair-splitting keyboard sample that easily slips into a hip-hop context, but barely changes throughout the track’s play. Goons rarely throw a stick into the beat’s machinery, and when they do, it involves the addition of a tiny sped-up vocal snippet or a brief breakdown in the drum patterns. An example of this comes in “No Guts No Glory”, featuring heavyweights O.C., Rasco, Reef the Lost Cauze, and Wordsworth. The track is a conglomeration of tinny synths, a chronic organ note, and bland drums, but despite its diverse instrumentation, it never significantly alternates in style.
The emcees on the tracks are consequently left with the responsibility to intrigue the listener by lyrically traversing the beats. The rappers are divided into a dichotomy of introspective boasters and violent fantasizers, with the latter delivering the more captivating and offensive lyrics. “Gunz”, featuring Sean Price, Jus Allah, and Doujah Raze, is the album’s most lyrically dazzling track, whose three verses are peppered with a brilliant display of machismo and imagination. Jus Allah paints a disturbing picture of a child who he causes to accidentally commit suicide, spitting the rhymes, “Look inside the barrel, I think it’s not loaded / Pull the trigger back, here hold it / Oops, my bad, you’re fucking dead now / Look what you did / A little soul arose up out the little kid”. While these rhymes are surely disturbing, they cause the beat to become less important than the lyrics on top of it, giving the record a blood-pumping voracity that is missing in the beat itself.
But where artists like Jus Allah bring the record to life, others merely drop verses that are rarely captivating and barely provide the listener with thought fodder. El Da Sensei brings this sense of uninspired delivery to “Show Love”, a militaristic romp that runs on a formulaic verse-chorus structure. With his couplet-based rhymes, El raps on the chorus, “Show love for shit that’s hot / The beats and the rhymes, DJ’s cuts are non-stop / Show love to the Berlin streets / Hardcore hip-hop, B-Boys, graf artists compete”. Part of the reason that records like this fall flat is because artists tend to blur into one another and rarely distinguish themselves, leaving the producer to carry the record’s weight. Unless the artists are able to evoke an emotional response from the listener, like Jus Allah’s verse on “Gunz”, then the producer must double their efforts to make their beats enchanting. In the case of Snowgoons, they barely manage to challenge themselves enough to reach this point.
That’s not to say that German Lugers is devoid of shining moments. The record’s soft-edged “Wait a Minute”, which features Kreators, closes out the record with an emotive sentiment that should have rung through on the rest of the tracks. The beat is based on a chilling acoustic guitar lick and the reactionary echo of a glowing synthesizer, all of which are graced with potent rhymes by the group of Boston lyricists. This song offers a glimpse into what the record could have been, and reveals the skills that Snowgoons have in adopting a blueprint for success. But unfortunately for the Goons, Lugers shows that it does not matter who appears on your record if you are unable to make it thrive without them. The record falls flat once the listener realizes its mundane essence, which happens far too early in the record. Once the Goons take a step back and musically challenge themselves, their beats will take on a life of their own and, no matter who rhymes on top of them, they will steal both the spotlight and your attention.
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// Sound Affects
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