Gangrene: Gutter Water

West Coast-born rapper and producer team up to get down for some strictly business hip-hop. And it's ugly, if too convinced of its own repulsiveness.


Gutter Water

Label: Decon
US Release Date: 2010-11-22
UK Release Date: 2010-11-22

If the duo's name didn't spell it out for you, the cover art for Gangrene's Gutter Water certainly will: this is not sexy music.

Save for one sampled line, the gutter isn't a melodic place. There's no singing, let alone Auto-Tune. Raekwon is the closest to "household name" status, although an impassioned Guilty Simpson earns his place in 2011's Most Wanted file. Women are nowhere to be seen. Hell, most of the songs don't even have refrains. The result is something like a hip-hop version of The Expendables without the star power, all bad boys and no bull.

Vet producer Alchemist and rapper Oh No (you may know his brother, Madlib) take pride in making some confrontational gutter shit, all weird samples and wet basement fungus. Production duties get split down the middle, and the two kick up beats as ugly as the album's swampy cover. But peppered with sub-Wu-Tang samples, many sewage-related, the album often sounds too boilerplate to be exciting. Aside from one of the Big Twins, whose Louie Armstrong flow begs for a throat lozenge, every rapper here -- including the hosts -- sounds like a faceless orbital member of a hip-hop posse, better suited to backing up superstar livewires.

For all the lack of personality here, Gangrene sure tries hard to let heads know how unpretty this is. Having taken three years to perfect the levels of nasty, Gutter Water opens with a wicked laugh, another song with a deathless scream. Before the guest appearances, Alchemist informs us whose show it is, but suffers from the same stilted rhymes that hinder most producers, for whom rhyming is a flirtation. Witness the thrilling soliloquy that opens "Boss Shit" -- "I hit back in my chair / And smoke on a fat blunt / And smoke until the blunt disappears". Do go on!

Oh No fares better with a cool but focused flow that loiters at the intersection of LL Cool J and Fabolous. He's a competent MC, but often gets into a monotone rut that hurts most "purist" hip-hop releases. Don't expect raps about sarcophagus pussies or brain-eating in Tonka trucks, although there is more than one reference to cutting someone's tongue out. Oh No does get in some bizarre one-liners ("I stay high like the pussy of a giraffe is"), and Evidence uses his spot on "Wassup Wassup" to do with "chips" what Jay-Z did with "to/two/too" back in '96, laying on slice-of-life detail like frosting: "Wait my turn, these cats tap, I default / Sit and watch, eating kettle chips with sea salt". Generally though, the lyricism leaves something to be desired, and with few head-cocking moments, the couplets can't help sinking into the sludge.

Musically, envelope-pushing was never Alchemist's thing; it's not Gangrene's either, and trends aside, there will always be a place for camouflaged head-nodders. Alc is still set on shaping street struggles into strident bravado (peaking on Jadakiss's "We Gonna Make It", which made moving enough coke to fill a whale sound like a civil service). You don't need to reinvent the wheel to make good hip-hop, but the 10-and-2 driving gets dull after a while.

The best cuts are Alchemist creations painting a single metered keyboard stab like a lane marker on top of gritty drum tracks, as on slow rollers like "Not High Enough" and the horn-driven title track. Unfortunately, the catchiest song, a neck-snapping monster by Oh No called "Take Drugs", half-asses a blunt chorus (instructions: repeat title in a stuttery fashion) that D12 would've rejected for being too obvious. For what it's worth, though, "Get Into Some Gangster Shit" has to be the best song with the words "gangster shit" in the title.

Despite Gangrene's (worthwhile) commitment to keeping it realer than radio, the visual metaphor on Gutter Water is a stretch: the music isn't shit, but it's not the shit either.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.