[4 December 2008]
When Cyne first caught attention with the fantastic 2005 album Evolution Fight, they seemed unable to leap the hurdle of being lumped in with the rest, for an underground hip-hop group, that’s a mighty hurdle to get over. So many acts either get passed over or slept on even though they might release a record worthy of both acclaim and sales, but by being in the underground, a group like Cyne might go unnoticed by hip-hop heads unless they scour the Internet or get a tip from a friend. Should that listener stumble upon a Cyne track, though, chances are he or she will be pleasantly surprised, and that belief only grows stronger with the recent release of Pretty Dark Things, an album that further proves being pissed off can lead to innovative and startlingly catchy music.
After dropping hints of their frustration over the years, both with society and hip-hop, Cyne have truly stepped up their collective-anger game. The Floridian foursome of producers and emcees never minced words with how they all feel about “hip-pop”. Like many underground emcees, the rappers of Cyne, Akin and Cise Star always eagerly seek out chances to diss their mainstream peers. At first, it was typical of what you would expect: a “sell out” here, a “radio sucks” there. Now, they have moved on to more dynamic and biting ways of expressing their outrage. How does comparing the Ying-Yang Twins to cotton-pickin’ slaves grab ya? Although the emcees do fall back on calling out MTV and the like, the aforementioned analogy clearly proves more poignant and compelling.
On the societal side of things, Cise Star and Akin take on topics like race with the same kind of attitude. For example, they thank Michael “Kramer” Richards for exposing the fact that yes, racism does still exist on the absolutely gripping and fantastic “Never Forget Pluto”. Much of those sentiments also carry over onto “Pianos on Fire” (on which the previously mentioned Ying-Yang Twins diss can be heard). Similarly, Akin and Cise Star drop the gloves on the head-nodder “Radiant Cool Boy”, which addresses white hipsters using the n-word, and on the prog-hop laden “Fuzzy Logic”, a track that could also put you in a neck brace. When the emcees fail to rise above clichés, however, the songs suffer in kind, like on “Scattered”, “Money Parade”, and “The Dance”. To be fair, those three won’t rate as terrible, but each lacks a sufficient quality to make them more than just average. But even with some top-notch production from Speck and Enoch, the beatmakers of the bunch, those tracks still suffer from lackluster rhymes.
Not surprisingly, these four hip-hop heads truly excel when they take on sounds outside of their respective comfort zones. Even a stereotypical backpacker anthem like “Just Say No”, which calls out Nelly, accelerates courtesy of production heavily influenced by African rhythms, and although these rhythms can be heard throughout many of the joints, they stand tall when little gets in their way. Lead single “The Runaway” features a great muffled-trumpet sound and jazzy drums that mold the perfect background for the emcees to spit over. Though a bit hectic, “Excite Me” carries the same tone. The same goes for the quick and snappy “Calor”, a cut that has an Afro-beat vibe bouncing throughout. But the producers are equally as capable of killing more straightforward beats, such as on “Escape”, which bangs, and on “Pretty Black Future”, a track that would sound at home on an album from the Roots; yes, the drums are that good.
What Pretty Dark Things boils down to be: An album that must be digested multiple times. Don’t expect to pop this into your CD player and instantly fall in love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t gratify upon first listen. You will have to bump this in your car, your headphones, your home stereo, wherever, to truly get what is going on here. Even though it’s a damn fine record after you let it settle, Pretty Dark Things will no doubt be lost on listeners looking for a quick hip-hop fix. But for all you underground heads looking for something new and different, on the production end at least, this album awaits you.