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Two Fingers - Two Fingers

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Artist: Two Fingers

Album: Two Fingers

Label: Paper Bag

Review date: Apr. 6, 2009

Undaunted by the failures of other spotlight producer collabos like Jay-Z & R. Kelly, or Dangerdoom, UK Breakbeaters Amon Tobin and Joe "Doubleclick" Chapman have teamed up under the suggestive Two Fingers moniker. Together, Tobin and Chapman stretch their well-earned post-jungle prod skills around club rap frames, re-envisioning the rap environment as one born of some sinister future technology. Two Fingers take their endeavor seriously – resisting the modern ease of remix culture and creative piracy (at least for this full-length), they’ve enlisted three formidable MCs: Sway, Missy-protege Ms. Jade and dancehall performer Cecille, whom they’ve built tracks not just with but around.

The results sound something like the Neptunes doing a summer apprenticeship with Roni Size using laptops stolen from Matmos. Crisp clicks, quick swooshes and pitch-black booming squiggles interact like machinery in the factory your grandchildren’s grandchildren will work in. There’s reverb and hyperactivity like you’d never hear in hip-hop proper and only rarely a sample that feels sampled. Although its hard to figure how the lyrics relate to their environments, all three MCs sound way more comfortable than Bun-B’s Dizzee Rascal feature and that’s an impressive feat both in the booth and behind the board.

In a vacuum, it’s a captivating and well-designed experiment. But in this real world where hip-hop is history, where it owns that history, wears it, references it, reflects it, bounces it around, Two Fingers’ record comes off overcooked and overflowing. Production by Timbaland, Neptunes and Mr. Collipark are all clear influences. "Jewels & Gems"’s middle eastern riffs immediately recall "Big Pimpin" or "Get Ur Freak On," while "Doing My Job" sounds a great deal like "Wait"-era Collipark with Jade whispering her raps and dropping 2 Live references.

What Two Fingers ignore about the work of these producers, however, is their sonic economy. Rap music has always thrived on making the most from the least. Whether through sparse use of time-trapped soul breakdowns or the spaced distribution of 808 kicks around steady claps or snapping, great rap production leaves space for the rapping. The rhythm patterns Two Fingers borrow from Timbo are the same rhythms once pounded by the hands of kids on the tables of lunchrooms and parks. And the musical power in them comes from making so much funk from nothing at all. With all those gaps filled, something truly important is lost.

There’s also an inherent dissonance in the synthesis of soundscapes saturated with raps better suited for the club, car or street. These are tracks that stimulate the imagination, suggest places that haven’t been placed yet, tracks that point to a vision of how the future looked in the daydreams of the past. And perhaps the right MC could have made use of that. Kool Keith was into Philip K. Dick, I think. But the lyrics here are the same clichés you’d expect anything this “futuristic” to have moved far past. Material wealth, thug life, relationship woes, how really-real real rappers really are, what makes hoes seem like hoes without actually making hoes hoes – it’s hard to see how these eggs connect to their basket. When Ms. Jade raps "I am Hip-Hop", one can’t help but ask, "Well, what are you doing over here?"

By Sean Schuster-Craig

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