As long as there’s an outlet for rap music, there will always be the Living Legends.
After all, when you put eight talented West Coast MCs together in one collective, you’re bound to get something good. Though all of them rap, four of them are better known as producers (Sunspot Jonz, Bicasso, the Grouch, and Eligh), one of them as a bona fide indie-rap superstar (Def Jux signee Murs), and then there’s the rest (Luckiam, Scarub, and Aesop [not to be confused with Aesop Rock]). Every couple of years they get together and release a fun posse album before returning to their various solo careers, balancing levity and brevity with wit and grit. Since 2005’s Classic, however, the Legends — as a collective — have been fairly quiet, only re-releasing their debut album while also clearing out the vaults a bit with 2006’s Legendary Music, Vol. 1. With that in mind, you’d half-expect The Gathering, their latest disc, to be a two-disc affair overloaded and overstuffed with pent up creative energy that comes out only in a group setting.
Instead, it’s the shortest album of their career.
Though it clocks in at just over a half-hour, The Gathering nonetheless feels like a bloated EP, containing only seven actual tracks. All eight MCs wind up spitting on every song — easily satisfying their fan base — but what’s most surprising about the Legends this time out is how readily they fall back on tired political commentary. “War & Peace”, riding a jazzy guitar riff, is filled with all the angst we’d expect from an anti-war track in ’08, but all the topics (Bush’s incompetence, the pointless deaths of American soldiers) have been spit through speakers so frequently in the past five years that the Legends — for once — sound like they have nothing new to contribute. This is immediately followed by the needy-lover tale “Luva Changer”, and — when placed side by side — the group’s overall message feels somewhat convoluted and confused. Really guys, what happened?
Calling their album The Gathering immediately conjures up images of the Wu-Tang Clan in their prime: full-on lyrical assaults that are as biting as they are witty, all mixed up in street-level beats that are as visceral as they are effective. On the title track, we instead get rhymes that — though still very good — feel somewhat road-weary:
I work like a Mexican, run like an African
Back to make a mess again, when it comes to rock I win!
Searchin’ like some rescue men for my fellow Americans
You know: Benjamin, Jackson, the rest of ‘dem
Fight like an Irishman, Iraqian, Afghanistanian
‘clare war on me? Call all your men
Production wise, the album is serviceable, but not full of the beats that we’d expect from an underground blockbuster of this nature. Two tracks are handled by Eligh and two are produced by Bicasso, but the album’s three best tracks — both lyrically and musically — are produced by the Grouch. “She Wants Me”, featuring a simple descending keyboard riff amidst club beats, is one of the rare tracks on The Gathering where the crew feels loose and fun, here crafting one of the funniest group numbers this side of D-12’s “My Band”, rife with zingers (“Well I’m Wayne Gretzky / But way too sexy”) and deft interactive story lines (debating marriage versus random hookups between group members). The stark, moody rumination on liars (“Pants on Fire”) is almost ruined by a horrid sing-song chorus (“They stab you in the heart / In the dark / On your mark” … really?), but fortunately it’s just hood enough to pass butter.
Yet nothing holds a candle to The Gathering‘s undeniable disc-closing highlight: “After Hours [Extended Euromix]”. Riding a brisk, funky drum beat with lazy, dreamy keyboards, this highly addictive track about partying all night all over the world features the group at their genuine best. The weary, sleep-sung chorus is perfect for its setting, leaving enough breathing room for the guys to unleash some genuinely creative verses:
It was a foreign exchange like 10AM
Eatin’ Mickey D’s breakfast at 6AM
Ain’t nothin’ flyer than a Japanese sunrise
I wasn’t just tryin’ to hit it like some guys
Hash browns, high cakes and I cleaned my plate
I can’t count all the bullshit that I didn’t ate
She told me that she spoke English and I said “Great”
Grabbed her hand out the club and I said “Let’s skate”
(Let’s go) Man this life’s so special
When the stress and the strife try and test you
DUI and they try to arrest you
If you faded comin’ home from the club, God bless you
Murs nails it out of the park, not just on that verse, but also on his four-minute outro, which feels never-ending but also endlessly entertaining. Sometimes he just boasts over the lone jazz trumpet that flies behind the beat (“We invented fun!”) and other times he tosses out bizarre and hilarious one-liners (“We the best in the world / I feel da breasts of your girl”).
It’s a fantastic track that serves as a stunning closer to what, ultimately, is a surprisingly average effort from the Legends. Then again, when you’ve released as many albums as they have, releasing one merely OK album is acceptable … as long as they promise to hit it out of the park next time ’round.