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The kids from Strictly Hammers have really nailed it again. After their release of hip-hop/experimental album, “Tempus Fugit,” in June, it was surprising to see another album come out in 2013. Although both albums are primarily hip-hop, their newest release is a little more conventional to the genre. The group is primarily Nick “MidiEvil” Pawlenty and Matt “Crimson Hammers” Ihle. MidiEvil creates the beats, samples and what can at times be considered as soundscapes and Crimson is the main lyricist.
The album begins with what is kind of a trademark for the group, a seemingly unrelated track of a sample from a movie arranged with beats and other sounds. This time it’s a sample from “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin from 1940, which is a powerful and humanitarian start. It has been cleverly edited and a thematic backing track of strings has been added. It’s titled “The Worst Introduction Ever.” I’m not exactly sure why, it’s a pretty cool choice of a sample to start an album.
The next track, “Nordic Waste,” begins with almost backwards sounding airy electronic effects with the words, “we live…we talk,” in the background. The beginning lyrics of the rap are mesmerizing and almost perfectly creates the scene of desperate childhood memories through the eyes of a disadvantaged child and his mother in Minneapolis, “just another story of me digging through the trash/cause my mom would take would take what I found and fix up to get some cash/I remember my little finger tips covered in cigarette ash/changed the station to hip-hop and asked my mom to drive fast/through the streets of Minneapolis with a drink on the dash.” The delivery and story are hard hitting and makes a true social statement about the struggle of living poor. It’s a pretty tight way to start out an album and the track really stands out.
The track, “Carry You Away,” features local rapper/singer C-Silence. “Don’t act like you’re looking for a change if you do the same things everyday/I know you think that you’ve heard it all before but you still try taking something away/don’t slip on the ones who stay true because you fall it’s going to carry you away,” sings C-Silence in his slight baritone voice that he occasionally uses. The song breaks away to a rap part by Crimson, “almost fell down after that last one/my friends helped me out I’m grateful that I have some.” A running theme in this album is appreciating support from friends as well as finding some sort of personal growth.
The track “Cutting it Close” has a fairly unusual backing track that is a mix of tribal hand drums and droning chants with hints of what sounds somewhat like Persian music. This is topped off by a saxophone sample played during the chorus. It’s not really what one would expect on a typical hip-hop album, and it fair to say not much by Strictly Hammers is typical hip-hop.
The next track “Fat Little Track” features Phrym8 and Ecid and it has a little more a straight up hip-hop flow, but it has a traditional sounding tribal flute and there are swells of electronic generated sounds that are verging on dub-step, although it somehow falls short of this. We asked MidiEvil about where he found some of the samples, “they’re all from anime shows such as Mushi Chi, Ergo Proxy, Last Exile and Cowboy Bebop.”
The flute samples continue with the track “Kill Your Captain” which has some amusing lines of raps in it with Phrym8. “Hey, wanna go have some fun? Like drink a bottle rum, take some pain killers and play with your Dad’s gun’s?” Not everything on the album is deep, but in the end, it makes it more interesting to listen to by switching around on subject matter.
The track “Rap of Storms” features A Lot. The backing sample has an organ that sounds kind of carnivalesque. The lyrics of the song are somewhat abstract and there is some interesting background vocals in it. The song “Feather Light” brings the album back to a more a socially charged feel. Airy electronic effects with distant high sped up vocal samples sets the mood for the song.
The song “Spirited Form” is held down with lively hand drum like percussion and more flute. At this point, the production of this album should be noted. There’s really not a dull moment and parts of the samples come in an out and build upon each other. The constant transitions combined with the tight lyrical delivery, makes for a project that stands out as being serious and well done.
Although there are several tracks with the flute samples, each song stands on it’s own and the flow of the album shifts around. The track “Cosmonaut” uses just a short snip of a vocal sample backed with synth sounds and bells, creating a laid back feel. Again, the lyrics are somewhat abstract but the song in itself is an experience.
Although I didn’t recognize many of the samples on the album, one that was unmistakeable and probably the least altered is “Let Us Be Renewed” which uses the electronic group Air’s “La Femme D’Argent,” the first track off their well known 1998 debut album, “Moon Safari.” The Air version is an amazingly smooth and chill instrumental track. Although this version is well edited to flow with certain parts of how the lyrics drop, I’m a pretty big fan of Air and was left with mixed feelings.
In this album, Strictly Hammers has once again delivered a solid album representing the Twin Ports hip-hop scene and it does not hold back in originality from the production and samples to the delivery of the lyrics. They do their own thing that can’t easily be pin-pointed to anything else. My main note of criticism is that, although the album as a whole is very good, it’s the first track “Nordic Waste” that really stands out. The reason for this is that it tells a definite story and delves into the background of the situation of the character going around with his impoverished mother as a child and dumpster diving in Minneapolis. The picture that is painted is unmistakable and vivid. In a way they raised the bar pretty high with that track right from the start and although there are parts that shine and are really great on the album, they don’t hit quite as hard.