LA-based hip-hop crew's debut album tries to persuade us of the prevalence of injustice, oh so earnestly
Move.Meant, a hip-hop group from Los Angeles, have been around for a little while -- enough time, at least, to cement itself as "one of those West Coast backpack hip-hop groups" in the minds of a few casual listeners. Its EP Good Money from last year, first brought the group to wider recognition, but despite kicking around for an extended period, it has taken a while to get the debut, The Scope of Things, out. As Champ says, his first words on the record, in fact, "We're finally here".
With such a build-up, we may be justified in expecting something exciting, or at least innovative, from this socially conscious group. Unfortunately those little words "socially conscious" inform a familiar dread in hip-hop listeners, and not without reason. We've been bombarded with so many anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-drug rants that it's no wonder more of the previously non-traditional listeners of hip-hop are turning to groups like Clipse's eminently pleasurable hedonism. Because let's be honest: nobody likes a soapbox-stander. West Coast hip-hop has trodden this line with varying degrees of success over the years: from Michael Franti's rampant moralism, to the Bay Area's XXX MCs Lyrics Born and Diverse, to Jurassic Five's more fully-realised good-time, subtly subversive rhymes. Into this pantheon, Move.Meant slip neatly without causing any major ripples to the others, the group's s slick production and prominent scratching hallmarking the entirely conventional sound. "Miracle" is typical: a high loop of string melody, scratches, and a predictable lamentation on the cycle of poverty and anti-multinational politicking.
As you might expect, Move.Meant treads the line with some over, some under. "Higher (Breathe)" is the closest the group comes to Pigeon John's upward-looking air of celebration; an easy, rich sample and strings swirling and Champ's slower, Franti-drained-of-fire delivery. In general, Move.Meant's choruses aren't as melodic as Pigeon John's or Jurassic Five's, rather, they rely on multitracked, repetitive chants or catchy phrases. However, paint-by-numbers tracks like "Rock Steady" and "Someday" are less successful, or re-tread the formula, in a way that doesn't bode well for a continued career. Still, moments reveal the group's honed skill; the transition between "Higher (Breathe)" and "Breaking Point", for instance, or the choppy orchestral sample -- effectively menacing and catchy -- on "Gunpowder Language".
By the end of The Scope of Things we've got a pretty good idea of the scope of Move.Meant's capabilities ... and slick production alone won't do it, not post-J5 and certainly not post-Lupe Fiasco. Champ may have the confidence to say, "Fuck preaching to the choir / I'm trying to reach the congregation", but this debut probably won't have the heft to get there. Move.Meant's truisms and conventional political outrage will appeal to a certain subsegment of the hip-hop listening public, but without some specific point of interest or twist of the formula, that subsegment's likely to be small. We're missing the spark that compels us to listen closely; and not much on The Scope of Things promises much to hope for in the future, either.