With their second LP, Symbionese Liberation Album, veteran underground hip-hoppers Third Sight step up their game to a new level. While I can’t really condone the group’s politics at all (the album’s cover and title are a tribute to the Symbionese Liberation Army, also known as “those bank-robbing, home-invading, gun-toting hippies-gone-bad that kidnapped Patty Hearst”), their views on hip-hop are much more conventional, leaning toward the golden-oldie combination of MCing and DJing that has fueled so much of the genre’s history (“It Takes Two”, remember? Third Sight have three). And while it might not be innovative, it’s a great continuation of a past formula and a throwback to a wonderful state of mind for hip-hop heads.
The album starts off nicely with the badass full-body stagger of “Hypothermia” on into the thumping “Tonto” and “Crawl Space”, one of the definite highlight tracks. The production throughout is remarkably solid, supplied primarily by D-Styles and Dufunk, with some outside help handling a few songs. “The People vs. The Fake” is all jaunty crawling string bass, staring you down darkly/(temptingly?) as it sashays from side to side; “Idle Smasher” is a tinkly nightmare-in-a-music-box, scintillating candy-colored glass, rhyming “Batman and Grendel” with “Gregor Mendel” in the urgent disorientation of a dream (it would be tugging insistently on your sleeve if it weren’t whirlwinding you with it.) The interestingly-named “Harry Scrotum” creates tension through contrast by pairing alternately thoughtful and pornographic rhymes with a droning, mournful cello the monologue from Sir Limpdic at the track’s beginning is the embodiment of alienated loneliness. “Nine in My Pocket” is pensive piano, “UCP” a deliciously unplugged beat-boxing stomper (damn near a cappella, but in a good way).
D-Styles especially manipulates his vinyl sharply and is entirely on point. This is to be expected; he was in Invisibl Skratch Picklz. But he seems to enjoy it, a cultured, adult enjoyment. He tears records into little pieces like Cookie Monster on a plate of sweet sugary heaven. Jihad does equally well by his rapping: he’s a new-school flow-er with an old-school mentality, mixing his braggadocio/wack-dissing with a few story tracks and the odd social commentary. On story track “Run”, he convincingly assumes the persona of a ruthlessly cold killer-for-hire, the cinematic feel helped by terse fist-nail-fuls of steel guitar and ominous sustained strings; the scratched sample hook from what sounds a lot like Slick Rick is vastly more terrifying than imagined. Jihad is much like this killer-for-hire, his blank-slate face and just-human-enough-to-be-interesting, just-robotic-enough-to-be-terrifying pitter-patter flow rumbling up inexorably like a distant drum. Wack emcees please him none; he disses what he terms the “rabbits” in the worst ways possible, and he’s one tough sonofabitch (to quote from the unambiguously addressed-to-wacks “Stop Rapping”: “I hope your kids starve / I hope your kids starve”). Taken altogether, it’s a somewhat calmly paced dish but undeniably hard-hitting.
Third Sight is not the lithe, limber athlete on the playground with the relentless barrage of blows. Shirt off, sweaty, graceful muscles, dodging/ducking/parrying (a human blur). Third Sight will not run up on you in the blink of an eye, will not startle you with a sudden punch to the face. Third Sight is the heavy, solid kid striding over from the back, that you see coming from fifty feet away but are too paralyzed by fear to avoid. Plodding, never awkward, slow but relentlessly d-o-p-e. And this kid has a wicked right hook.
There’s no real focus or thematic cohesiveness to the album. Third Sight laugh in your face. Do they need a focus? They’re beats and rhymes, beats and rhymes, hip-hop culture and dope dope dope. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing wack.