Album: Excuse me, This is The Yah Mos Def
Comments: Given that the indie rock world is currently in the middle of the second coming of lo-fi, it's a little shocking that indie rap hasn’t followed suit. Big releases in the past months from the likes of Aesop Rock and El-P have all been dense, elaborate affairs. Not that the Def-Jux crew has ever been a meat-and-potatoes operation, but one would assume that the plug-and-play, DIY ethic that is burning through the underground like wildfire would have made some sparks in the rap world.
Philadelphia’s own rap underground is picking up on the trend, or at least the YMD are doing so. The YMD, short for The Yah Mos Def (they had to shorten it after some of Mos Def’s lawyers got uppity), consists of two friends who spent the majority of their lives playing in various hardcore bands in the Philly scene before branching out into the rap world.
I know what you’re thinking; this sounds a lot like what was going on in the mid-to late ’90s with Limp Bizkit and Crazy Town. Rest assured these comparisons are unwarranted. If anything, The YMD are the spiritual successors to Beastie Boys; nerdy white dudes who worship at the physical temple of hip-hop and subscribe to a punk rock mentality.
On their debut album Excuse Me, This is The Yah Mos Def, The YMD take their hardcore background and put it to work, sampling ’80s and early ’90s-era hardcore breakthroughs like Minor Threat, Crass, Cap’n Jazz and Drive like Jehu. Even if rap isn’t your thing, fans of hardcore music would be well served to check this record out for the creative ways in which buzzsaw guitars are reborn as hooks.
The album is a quick blast of bratty, sneering hip-hop courtesy of B.Awesome and Distro, the one-two punch that make up the group. Admittedly, the album suffers from a lack of diversity, both in subjects and style. B.Awesome and Distro are certainly entertaining, but they don’t have much to say beyond how awesome they are and how much you suck. On top of that, the two don’t do much to switch up their delivery, which is always screaming and bratty, as if your little brother was rapping.
Still, the charisma and bravado of the record carries The YMD. After a brief introduction, the album slaps the listener in the chops with “Charlie Maggio’s Real Last Name is Ash,” an announcement of the arrival of your new favorite rap duo. That track is followed by “Drown Yr Hamster in Nail Polish,” which is an aggressive attack-track that would sound potent at a house party or in a mosh pit.
These two cuts set the tone for the entire album, which is one of chaotic aggression and dominance. The production is decidedly lo-fi, with tape hiss and distortion all over every second of the record. The overall result is a sound that is undeniable Philly, dirty and harsh with just a dash of innovation.
Perhaps the strongest effort, in terms of lyrics and production quality, is “Stockton to Malone,” as it embodies everything The YMD stand for. Cap’n Jazz gets sampled over bomb-squad drums while B.Awesome and Distro tear through three verses, weaving in an out of each other in a manner that would make the track’s title character's proud.
Despite the strength of the album, one has to wonder if The YMD will have any staying power in hip-hop circles. Sure, the hardcore, lo-fi sampling sounds awesome now, but the group runs the danger of falling into the gimmick territory.
Still, that is a question for future critics to worry about. For now, Excuse Me, This is The Yah Mos Def is a strong debut with some serious cross over potential and a good release for The YMD, a missing link between Public Enemy and Fugazi.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Key Tracks: Charlie Maggio's Real Last Name is Ash, Drown Yr Hamster in Nail Polish, Stockton to Malone.
Worth the Money: Mos Def