Question: How can hip-hop artists "take it to the old school" but still sound fresh? The answer from Big Quarters: "Like This."
Straight outta Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cost of Living, by brothers Medium Zach and Brandon Allday (together known as Big Quarters), hooked me with its production. Even the intro groove makes me smile, as Brandon Allday hosts an uncanny, slightly off-center rhythm -- and I don't really dig "intros" on rap albums that much! A couple of the beats ("Lou Diamonds", "All Over Again") have this incredibly haunting flute in them that echoes the loneliness implicit in the "us against them" (because "they" aren't properly funding "our" schools) worldview of the album's first full track, "Sign of the Time". The trembling keys in "Land of Opportunity" match the flute's pathos. "Call Me" is a fun, frenetic romp, while "Beacon 2.0" sports some serious funk.
I must have listened to this album about ten times, all the way through, before it dawned on me that these guys also have something to say over those delectable beats. Song for the Brown Babies, for example, is an inspired ode to survival, socially and economically, but without the overflow of sentimentality. It's stark, almost cold, like reporters delivering the news in rhyming couplets.
My favorite track, lyrically and production-wise, is "How to Kill Your Rap Career". Instead of campaigning directly against the cardinal sins that derail longevity and musical integrity, the song encourages you to do all those silly things. "Sign the first contract you see," they advise. "Lip synch, don't ask questions / barely tour, freestyle writtens". Oh, there's more. "Don't receive credit on records, let the engineers get them / 'cause they perfected it", plus the biggest of all fallacies, "People don't wanna think, they wanna 'kick it' / It's all about 'hoes, clothes, and riches'". Bravo! It's delightfully tongue in cheek, powerful in its brilliant sarcasm. Every artist -- musicians, painters, novelists, cartoonists, everybody -- should listen, and take heed. Other favorites: "Call Me", "Beacons 2.0", "Painkillers", and "Sing Like This".