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The P Brothers - The Gas

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Artist: The P Brothers

Album: The Gas

Label: Heavy Bronx

Review date: Jan. 5, 2009

Straight New York street talk is rarified air in hip hop these days. More specifically, the bleak second wave of “realness” after Wu, Nas and Black Moon emerged. Records like Mobb Deep’s The Infamous or Group Home’s Livin’ Proof sounded like kids trading blunts and rhymes in ciphers in the projects, nodding their heads as Rakim spit, “I guess I didn’t know the ledge.” The soundscapes were almost as dire, but always injected with a shot of soul. Nottingham’s P Brothers – DJ Ivory and Paul S – preserve this connoisseur’s strain with the care of curators.

Former breakers, and avid excavators of “proper” breaks, they’re responsible for the most seamless hybrid of transatlantic hip hop to date. Highly-sought previous releases include the Heavy Bronx Experience 12”s featuring vets like Sadat X and Percee P, Ivory’s unmatched Hear No Evil mix series, and the Zulu Beat LP with Donald D, a tribute to Afrika Islam’s radio show. In interviews, they claim the secret behind their meticulous drum snap is getting bent and tapping hard on the MPC, and that their record collections were bolstered through local DJs who succumbed to drugs and sold off all their wax.

Released on their Heavy Bronx imprint, The Gas delineates that East Coast sound. A half-decade in the making, the LP consists of 12”s released over the past few years and mostly new material. The strictly hardware template is minimal: rupturing bass patterns, dubbed-out bridges and precision kicks like Beckham in his prime. Looping flutes and keys straight from worn LPs, almost every song is dusted with a crushing vocal sample that sounds stripped from unreleased Numero comps or “Donuts” Illa J hasn’t found yet. They even flip the same Dionne Warwick sample Dilla used for “Stop!,” letting her voice swim a little further out. One of these lost souls closes the LP: “When the spirit in people is dying / That’s the time to be twice as hard trying.” It seems like a statement on the game and their standing in it.

But these tracks were not composed as instrumentals. They were crafted for MCs of equal mettle that make years of paying dues sound effortless. In the process, the record exposes the problems of similar producer-type albums that feature multitudes of rappers or the reverse. Compare this to Termanology’s Politics As Usual, released earlier this year with a Hall-worthy production team (Extra P, Primo, Pete Rock) that should have reunited for Illmatic II. The sessions are underwhelmed by Termanology’s technical proficiency and forced content. He comes off like he’s eyeing figures or trying to live up to the story of the producers. On The Gas, ruffnecks rhyme like they’re stuck, admitting there’s no way out. They talk wreckless in measured tones. The type of brothers “that could probably pass a polygraph.” Wrists decked in platinum. The other kind of bracelet.

On almost every track these MCs explore the exact themes – hugging the block, kids not raised right, jail providing mental clarity – that would have someone like NYOil calling hood treason. And while I tend to agree with his sentiment, there’s something vital on display here that is hard won and incomparable to any other forum of music. This is that formidable non-contradictory hip hop that’s anchored by anguish and doesn’t offer solutions.

One half of Boss Money, Eddie Cheeba says it more succinctly: “Real niggas do what they gotta’ do / Not what they can.” His partner is Trey Bag, and the duo do best when they’re playing off each other, like heralded hip hop acronyms EPMD and UGK. Cheeba has microphone presence, his stanzas carry weight. Bago’s the one swallowing drugs when the spot gets hit. Both frame jutted bottom lips when they finish verses. Along with DITC affiliate and mixtape soldier Milano (Tony Touch, Green Lantern), they get the most airtime. If there’s a single in here it’s Milano’s “Digital B-Boy.” With more of a free style (“More bars than Alcatraz”) and an electro pulse, it stands aside from the block arithmetic. In only one case the lyricist can’t keep up. “Don’t Question Me”’s wallowing thump and downward guitar spirals speak volumes louder than $amhill’s competent street morality play.

The album’s best taken end to end, but the sides by Hempstead’s Roc Marciano peak the intensity. The UN member (check “Game of Death” for his earlier pedigree) sets it off like “Uncut Raw”-era AZ without an early industry connect. On “Outta Contol,” an encroaching bass line tries to swallow the vocal whole but Roc tails the lethal snares with calculated math: “It’s the winter time tie up your Timbs / Rhyme for the ends / Knots full of fives and tens / 45s and chrome 9s for twins.”

The Gas is hip hop that hits from the waist up. Tinted-jeep music with heat stashed in the armrest, toting a handful of reality-check anthems on par with O.C.’s “Time’s Up.” Chase C.R.E.A.M on the low, hit pads like Kris Jenkins. On “Cold World,” Trey Bag extrapolates: “Ratata/ Think about consequences after / Black master / Gun blaster / Middle finger to the pastor.” To everybody involved, hip hop is religion.

By Jake O'Connell

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