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Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus (12 Year Anniversary Edition)

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Artist: Company Flow

Album: Funcrusher Plus (12 Year Anniversary Edition)

Label: Def Jux

Review date: Jun. 15, 2009

Company Flow was founded on anti-corporate ideology. Three idealist, hip hop junkies from New York City – Bigg Jus, El Producto and DJ Mr. Len – took issue with a C.R.E.A.M.-obsessed culture that was falling fatally in sync. Turning a back to the whole gangster fascination, Co-Flow waged war against the “all-style, no content” slant proliferating ‘90s hip hop. El-P laid out the crew’s dissident aesthetic on “Vital Nerve”: “With hip-hop guidelines I state I never liked authority / When sales control stats I place no faith in the majority.” They answered the bell with Funcrusher Plus, a sprawling uppercut to hip hop’s then-current state that utilized basic elements – voice, turntables, drum machines, spray-paint – but sounded wholly futuristic. Mr. Len’s laceration of a Cenobites sample worked as CoFlow’s strictly independent blueprint: “Any rapper on a label should resign or quit / Take it back to the real shit.”

A definitive track is “89.9 Detrimental,” a freestyle on Columbia University’s station that broadcasted the legendary Stretch and Bobbito show. Bobbito’s vinyl-only Fondle ‘Em label had already released the Juggaknots first EP and Breezly Brewin from that crew would appear on Funcrusher‘s “The Fire In Which You Burn.” El-P’s punishing verse subtly subverts the system: “If you spit my name it only means you recognize my status / I flip the script use your little diss as a promotional apparatus / I’ll ignore you selling crack, killing people, and keepin’ it real / But disrespect me and my adopted fam and die young like veal.” In this case, definitive had multiple meanings. The rugged, in-the-know tumult of Funcrusher would come to define the underground.

Bigg Jus was also on to something, bombing breaks with lyrics that “don’t know how to act.” El-P reiterated his vision with missives like “kill def MCs with closed captions,” while guest J-Treds was “busting caps in your thoughts.” These were rhymes worth reading, deciphering. Nothing came easy. You contemplated while your head nodded. They flipped a hip hop cliché like “you can’t see me” into “I write a rhyme in Braille.” CoFlow maximized the minimal. After one verse, instead of a hook, El-P states plainly: “This is just the chorus.” Not intended as songs per se, these “beautiful arrangements” were scores for riding subways, guides for traversing outer boroughs, anthems for getting lifted. They could give a fuck if anybody got it. Even when they said nothing it was “a beautiful use of negative space.”

Their flows were tight in another sense. Stanzas often came off claustrophobic, like the MCs were trying to pack as much as possible into the bars, words just data that must be processed. Verses were a blur of saturated content over drums programmed to jut up against each other. Their intrepid interjections could even be interpreted as just another form of percussion, in perfect harmony with the burgeoning climate of information overload. Compared to most rhyme schemes at the time, their microphone math was straight lyrical bum rush. El-P elaborated: “My style is War and Peace/ Your shit is just the Cliff Notes.”

Producto also had an answer for “karaoke MCs” – he made his own beats. And his were some woozy shit. Bent tempos and sluggish rhythms were ripe for the crew’s brand of slurred-funk phonetics-slash-mechanical poetics. The foregrounded fat-lace bounce on “Vital Nerve” and “Krazy Kings”’s jabbing horn hits sound better now than in ‘97. His less-is-more penchant for guttural kicks and bitch-slap snares radiate a mundane murk that he would master on The Cold Vein, then abandon for a more prog-inflicted angle. Sampling everyone from Bob James to Queen to the Harlem Underground Band, El-P was also versed in the art of digging. Len wasn’t just your token DJ either, and his fingerprints are all over this. Sharpened scratch tactics added another dimension to the confusion, his cuts resembling an almost androidal slang. “Lune TNS,” the sole Bigg Jus production, delivered the LP’s thickest bassline on an album overflowing with them.

That track incorporates the element of graffiti like few before or since, with both forms of Bigg Jus’ “aerosol alphabetics” displayed front and center. Parlaying in tunnels, Jus was legitimately underground New York, and “Lune TNS” was an exercise in graff tag history. As he talks, phrases pass by like end-to-end burners on elevated tracks. The graffiti comparison is relevant. Co-Flow were marking a territory, mixing and matching one-off stream-of-conscious rants with studied, clinical views. Whether echoing the agony of Knick fans (“Yo Motherfuck the Houston Rockets”), El P’s formally educated comparison to visual art (“painting beats on an easel”) or engaging in tribal posse chant, the permutations gave hip hop new breath. This creation of a vivid, underground code that meshed the high- and low-brow escalated the culture to new depths. It also echoed the thoughts of another famed Brooklynite on contradiction: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Juxtaposition would become the most identifying element of Co-Flow and the label El-P would later found.

Fitting the futuristic theme, Funcrusher also delved into the realm of sci-fi. At times, the record plays like an unwritten Norman Spinrad novel or Super Flat Times. They worked in samples from films like Flash Gordon, The Hobbit, Vampire Hunter D, and most poignantly The Holy Mountain montage on “Help Wanted.” The track not only highlighted the prescience of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film, the dialogue fell perfectly in line with Co-Flow’s dystopic worldview. Along the same lines, El-P played soothsayer, predicting the fall of record labels and the big business crash.

With authenticity becoming an increasingly disputed issue, timing was also on their side. You didn’t question El-P when he boasted graduating high school in the top 5 percent of the country “quite easily.” Or if Jus ran in graffiti crews and Len had battle skills. They were making beats, watching movies, DJing, reading books, writing rhymes and graffiti. And that’s what they rapped about. Bigg Jus made it clear that it wasn’t for everybody: “Straight up, for niggas who don’t understand, obviously this wasn’t made for you, so fuck you.” This insularity sparked an underground movement ultimately rooted in the fundamentals. The fidelity to tradition is one definite reason for its classic status, but lines like El-P’s “your insanity is my clarity” exemplify just how far Company Flow inverted the existing format, leaving an indelible mark in its wake.

By Jake O'Connell

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