Two years ago, CunninLynguists, a group little known outside underground hip-hop circles, dropped Dirty Acres, easily one of the best hip-hop albums of 2007 and arguably one of the best albums of the past decade.
Three alliterative Ss were all you needed to describe Dirty Acres.
Subtle: Unlike many of their peers in the South, CunninLynguists don't overpower you with club beats and violent vitriol. Instead, they let the subtle music and lyrics slowly work their way into your consciousness. It may take a little longer, but, once the songs are there, they stay for good.
Savvy: Kno, the primary producer in CunninLynguists, is one of the most savvy diggers around, searching for, selecting, and mixing a range of samples that serve as the basis for some of the most infectious beats in hip-hop. His songs aren't supersaturated with layers of electronica, strings, and harmony vocals. Instead, Kno relies on timely cuts, careful tempo modification, and elegant key changes to enhance--rather than overpower--tasteful samples and thoughtful lyrics.
Smart: Even though members of CunninLynguists hail from Georgia and Kentucky, the group's main emcees, Deacon the Villain and Natti, display a laid back, humor-infused verbal flow that is more reminiscient of West Coast rappers like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube than fellow -- and more well-known -- Southerners like UGK and T.I. That being said, CunninLynguists are most definitely a product of their environment, possibly even more so than the aforementioned artists. Deacon and Natti's lyrics paint a vivid portrait of southern life and culture, from the plight of everyday folks to the party scene to interpersonal relationships. Deacon and Natti don't rely on tired cliches and recycled phrases. Instead, they break out of the institutional misogyny, materialism, and fatalism that pervades the work of their colleagues. Oh, and how 'bout that band name? Simultaneously one of the best and worst monikers in music -- that in itself reveals a dark humor, subtlety, and smarts absent in much of music today.
Now, CunninLynguists are back with the excellent first installment of a two-volume set to be released in 2009. Strange Journey Volume One is somewhere between a proper release, a mix-tape, and a B-side compilation. It features a live track, a handful of new songs and skits, and several remixes. Guests are present throughout, including Slug from Atmosphere, Killer Mike, and Mac Lethal. Strange Journey Volume One doesn't hit store shelves until late May, but it is available as a digital download this week from your favorite e-store. Check out a video from the album and download two (free!!) singles at the CunninLynguists' offical Web site.
Look for Strange Journey Volume Two some time in the fall.