Wednesday, 14 September 2016

LOX - We Are The Streets (2000)

That's LOX as in 'lox as in short for Warlocks who were some New York street gang, so I gather, although it might be an acronym for something as well, and it's a fillet of brined salmon of the kind generally served in a bagel with cream cheese. This particular LOX were once billed as Puffy's gangsta rap crew, Bad Boy's east-coast response to the existence of NWA or something of the sort, which says as much about the rap publicity machine as about the band itself. They had a minor hit with If You Think I'm Jiggy, which riffs on Rod Stewart's Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? and probably tells you more or less everything you need to know about the lads' time at Bad Boy.

By 2000 they had managed to get themselves out of the contract - after a bit of a fight - had ceremonially burned the shiny suits, and had a new album - the first one that counted, it might be argued. We Are The Streets did okay, but not so well as everyone expected considering the anticipation, and is seemingly remembered as decent but short of classic - even in interviews with the group themselves whose view of their own second album seems founded on how many copies failed to fly out of the stores.

I don't get it. Maybe it just caught me at the right time, but this one still sounds like a landmark - perhaps not quite anything new or revolutionary in terms of surly men explaining how much they enjoy a fight, but neither did it sound like a rewrite of anyone else's record; and so far as that gritty stuff goes, We Are The Streets is so hard it's almost ridiculous. The key is probably everything coming together in a near perfect arrangement.

Keeping in mind that Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch tend to share a certain lyrical focus on subjects relating to the legal system in one way or another, whilst their thematic range may not stray far from the familiar path, their collective verbal dexterity is dizzying, making most of their peers sound kind of slow and clumsy; so whilst you may not like what they say, the way they say it is breathtaking. This was equally true of the first album with Puffy jumping up and down in the background saying things like 1998 y'all and yeah pronounced yiiiih, but the big difference is the music of Swizz Beatz and a production which hasn't assumed it knows better than the artist.

I guess the millennium was when Swizz Beatz was at his most musically extreme, and his beats are really stripped down on this album - a vast dry space with all the atmosphere sucked out, a snare like he's just punctured the seal on a jar of instant coffee, cheesy Casio synth tinkling away providing notes without quite becoming a tune, and beneath all this weird artificial tinsel, a bass like Godzilla's footsteps. The parts don't even quite seem to fit together, and yet somehow it adds up to a unique, incredible sound even when you get the impression he's just pulling things out of the mix to see how much he can lose before it degrades into random plinky-plonky noises. Swizz Beatz probably invented vapourwave or something, or at least foreshadowed some of vapourwave's more airbrushed extremes, but even now - fifteen years later - this stuff sounds like something sent back from the future after the rules have all been swapped around; and because its great strength is its minimalism, these beats can only elevate the dense lyricism, allowing the overpowering undercurrent of menace to really flow. This is some intense shit - not lacking in humour, but it's pretty dark humour - and you can tell they felt they had some points to prove after all those years of Puffy spitting into a hanky and wiping their faces in front of the other kids.

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