Thursday, 22 October 2015

Criminalz - Criminal Activity (2001)

Criminalz were an aspiring west coast supergroup; or would have been had Jayo Felony been able to commit. He was named as a member in the early publicity material but blew it out for some reason, although he guests on more than half of the tracks here. So the no-show left just Celly Cel and Spice 1, and whilst their aggregate fame may indeed be such as to pay for a fancy house and flashy cars which go up and down, I doubt either of them feature greatly in anything written David Toop, renowned hip-hopper expert and afficionado of rapper songs, so Criminalz' status as a supergroup probably depends on where you live, or more specifically on whether you live somewhere down the left-hand side of America.

So as to avoid too much repetition, the usual terms and conditions apply given the lyrical content and generally disgruntled thrust of this music; or, if you can't be arsed to refer to previous reviews of this sort of thing, please try to remember that just because a black man said it, it doesn't mean that he's dishing it out as recommended career options. If you have trouble with this concept, just try to pretend we're talking about Eminem or one of those nice, artistically erudite white rappers in the storytelling tradition of Chaucer, Kubrick and the rest.


Well, you probably have some idea of what you'll get whenever a group spells its name with a Z where one might reasonably expect an S, and true to form that's what you get here; although for what it's worth, Spice 1 at least has always preferred to call it reality rap. Whether or not you regard that as a bad thing probably depends on how the previous paragraph applies to you, but Criminal Activity is nevertheless a pretty solid album to my ears. Neither Spice 1 nor Celly Cel have ever quite been headliners in the grand scheme of things, but both have earned their stripes over the years, so to speak, with work of consistent high quality, album after album, maybe nothing hitting the front page but giants within their own world; and both have highly distinctive styles of delivery and a certain shared hard-edge which made the prospect of this collaboration particularly exciting. The beats are about as west coast as it gets without actually falling into the sea - slow, hard, and funky with squelching bass and that regular crunch of rhythm timed to walking pace. It's music that makes the most sense on hot days, a sort of dirty soul which keeps smiling despite all the shit it has to put up with because what the fuck - the sun is out, like I said. Maybe you've been there, in which case Criminal Activity will make a lot of sense; and if you haven't, well this is how it is. Feel free to learn something.

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