The Procussions: ...As Iron Sharpens Iron

Justin Cober-Lake

The Procussions

...As Iron Sharpens Iron

Label: Basementalism
US Release Date: 2003-10-28
UK Release Date: 2003-11-03

When you close your eyes and think of hip-hop, you're probably like me. You think of tall mountains, deep snow, and some hard-ass Christ-seeking emcees. You think Colorado and church, log cabins, and firewood. No? You're more into crunk than the cross. Well, don't get hung up on all that and let me introduce the Procussions.

This trio came out of the Colorado hip-hop scene (rumors say there's one) in the late '90s, and they've just released their first album, ...As Iron Sharpens Iron. The Procussions don't impose their faith, and it's easy to miss in their lyrics, but any group that titles their album after a psalm doesn't need to be outed by a critic. It's a nice approach to their lyricism: they get their message across without being in-your-face or aggressively Christian. You don't have to believe to like this group. The Procussions aren't trying to evangelize; they just want to "promote the optimist's view". On the first single, "All That It Takes", the rappers mention all four Gospel writers by name, but what you'll remember is the beat that bounces and flows.

The music on this album really stands out. Stro the 89th Key not only raps, but he also plays guitar, piano, trumpet, and drums. His jazz influence is apparent on many tracks, especially when he's on the piano. He's also the group's producer, and he builds a full sound without overpowering his audience. At moments, the Procussions sound as if they've worked in a Public Enemy studio, but they never get quite that aggressive with their production. Mr. J Medeiros also plays drums and piano. Like the first two, Resonant handles the mic, but he doesn't do any live instrumentation.

The jazz sounds on ...As Iron Sharpens Iron smooth out the disc. The melody lines are typically smooth and unassuming. Occasionally the pace changes up with some funk-inflected grooves, which Stro brings out on his trumpet. You might be reminded some of the Roots, but the Procussions really sound much more throwback than that. A Tribe Called Quest comes to mind, and you can find some similarities between the deliveries on Iron and 1991's Low End Theory.

In all that description, though, I might have falsely suggested that the Procussions flow, but they don't hit. Get a few seconds into the first track and you'll be disabused of that notion. "The Beginning" starts with a drum roll followed by a chant of "This is, this is the beginning", while a musical tension slowly begins as the drum line develops and the vocals lose their place in the mix, until the first emcee hits and threatens to keep hitting until things are put right. By the time the chanting resumes, the song's developed an anthemic quality. Then it ends to immediately make room for the PE-like "Introducing", allowing the Procussions to "stay driven on a mission for truth".

Smooth and hard, Iron remains in conversation with other Christian hip-hop discs. In some ways, it's a response to the production values of a group like the Cross Movement. On 1998's Heaven's Mentality the group uses a similar sensibility and a slightly throwback sound, but they use horns to opposite effect. Where the Procussions use brass to bring out the funk side of their album, spicing up some of their mellower tracks, the Cross Movement use trumpets to bring it down, to give the album that jazz inflection that the Procussions have inherently.

Iron also plays like an answer to KRS-One's album Spiritual Minded (2002). KRS-One keeps the old-school beats he's spent years rapping over, but he delivers a newfound bluntness about his faith, proclaiming, "I'm a preacher tryin' to bring my people back from the dead". Along with his preaching, though, Kris insists on his own street-life background. He's the street-boy with religion, refusing to renounce the rhymes of his past because they're connected to the spirituality now on display (and always there). Even the title of this KRS-One refers to his landmark 1987 record with Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded.

The Procussions, while clear on their positive spiritual message, aren't so direct about their religion. They avoid tracks like KRS-One's "Take Your Tyme", which extols the virtues of abstinence. At the same time, they don't struggle to impress us with their street knowledge. They are what they are, and it's a fun and moving thing to watch. As they say, "Liberation is a critical thing", and that liberation allows you to vocalize yourself without the need for self-explanation.

The question has to be asked, then: if the Procussions are liberated into their own selves, why the old-school beats? Well, I guess because that's what they sound like. Some feminists discuss liberation as not only the freedom to get the job you want, but also the freedom to stay home with the kids without feeling inferior. Throwing these early '90s beats around is the way the Procussions do it and, maybe surprisingly, it sounds fresh. We're all listening to the pop bands that lift their hooks straight from my childhood. Why? I suppose one argument is that it's both new (in its removal from its original periodicity) and comfortable (in its familiarity). Another argument is that it sounds good. Take your pick, just don't mind me if I put my headphones back on while you debate.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.