Custom Made: Sidewalk Mindtalk

[26 November 2006]

By Steve Horowitz

LA Hardcore Hip Hop of the 21st Century

Custom Made are a five-piece hardcore, hip-hop group from the West Coast. These fierce rappers claim to have moved more than 100,000 mixtapes in the Los Angeles area. Their debut CD on Babygrande is alleged to compile some of the best tracks from the seven mix-CDs these tough guys have made, plus six new cuts of unreleased material. This collection also contains a DVD about the LA mixtape movement with scenes of the guys in battle. Custom Made has a disc of all-new stuff scheduled to come out on the label in the near future. This recording is meant to whet the appetites and spread the word to those who may of have not previously heard the group perform. Based on the evidence found here, there should be no hurry to release the next one. The CD has some good moments, but the word mediocre best describes Sidewalk Mindtalk. Hell, even the title of the record is pretty lame.

The individual members of Custom Made rap about “bitches”, boast about their toasting prowess, brag about how tough they are, and all the standard thug life stuff. They gave themselves nasty, street-smart names: Sinister Six, Bluff, Element, Skandalous Scoobs, and Aneek. They sound like tough guys who could probably beat the crap out of me, and might want to after reading this review. But that’s no big deal. Your mother probably would be able to beat me up, your father, too, and your big bro and sista, and maybe even your kid brother and sis.  I don’t care. I’m here to tell the truth. Word. And MCs who crow that they can kick everybody’s butt are just boring. It’s the 21st century. Straight Gangsta rap sounds as tired as Goodyear. Yeah, I know… that’s the point, boyyyy. You don’t need Flava Flav to know what time it is.
 
Okay, maybe I’m just being cruel. It’s hard to be nice to MCs that try so hard to be so hard as a form of entertainment. There’s good stuff on the record. Let’s get down to basics. The five best couplets on the record are (in no particular order):

1) “Gutter lane is my favorite/ So I can’t spare ya’ll.”
2) “Nothing symbolizes death better than a blood spilled carcass/ In the street lying in the darkness, eulogies and closed caskets.”
3) “You heard of Caligula, then you know the line of my work/ Death by violent design, I’m striking at nerves.”
4) “I’m sin and serious/ Like a bloodthirsty vampire drinking the bitch’s period.”
5) “Porn is the reason for the Internet/ World I live in, come back spittin’ on your favorite dinner set.”

The five worst lines are (again in no particular order):

1) “Hit ‘em hard and them bitches will run/Hit ‘em hard enough (Six) and them bitches will cum”
2) “And act out my inner soap/ Cuz turnin’ pop is being an ass and being a bitch ass in a cell.”
3) “I don’t give a fuck about your life/ Fuck your wife.”
4) “Fuck all you fuckin’ faggot homo fuckin’ thugs spinning that same bullshit/ It’s like this.”
5) “I’ll beat you to death/ To show you I am dead serious.”

What does this prove? When they want to, Custom Made can be clever and thought provoking. Other times, well, they prefer to be menacing and stupid. And too often they’d rather be intense and confrontational instead actually saying something. Thirty years ago, this was fresh. Today it’s not.

Musically, the disc does have some interesting beats. The sampling of a scratchy album copy of Dusty Springfield singing Jacque Brel’s classic “If You Go Away” adds poignancy to the braggadocio of the MCs boasting about verbal battles and such in “Go Away”. The sad, classical violin lines that augment “Advice to the Homeless” seem very appropriate to the title topic. In addition, several tracks open with lines from Hollywood movies, a fitting touch for an LA band.

It’s true that life may not have changed much for the “Boyz in the Hood”. Social services to the poor have gotten worse. Inner city troubles have remained a stagnant problem. No doubt these MCs have witnessed hard times and gun crimes. That’s not the question. The issue is one of music and its connection to time and place. If four lads came out of Liverpool today doing white boy covers of ‘50s R&B, would anyone care? I don’t think so. The meaning of a sound depends on the context from which it emerges and how it is heard. N.W.A. was once the shit. By the early ‘90s, the band didn’t matter anymore, except to their most loyal fans. Custom Made is the N.W.A. of the 21st century. That’s not necessarily a compliment.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/custom-made-sidewalk-mindtalk/