Felonious: Live City
When I think of hip-hop acts that utilize a live band I can only think of a few. Naturally there are The Roots and there’s various moments in the history of The Beastie Boys where they pushed aside DJs and turntables for a backing band. Anyone who’s ever been to a K’Naan concert knows that he brings a band with him but for the most part it seems that hip-hop has moved the way of soundboards and DJs so when I prepared myself for Felonious’s 2010 release Live City, I was a bit excited.
Felonious bring everything a live hip-hop band needs. They have guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, beat boxers, and emcees but something about Live City didn’t seem to gel. The guitars range anywhere from funk to jazz and all things in between but there was never a moment where the guitars really seemed to make a difference; they seemed to function as a filler that didn’t quite fill enough. The drums did seem to be on point delivering appropriate beats to rhyme over, but also felt under used. There was beat boxing that was rather intriguing, but it just seemed too much like a novelty.
Lyrically, the rhymes didn’t deal with the usual bravado of popular rap. There was not a focus on what cars they drive or how many women they’ve slept with, but they didn’t keep things too serious either. Anything from “I’ve got an old soul/guess I need Dr. Scholl’s/yo” to “let’s get some attention/like tits was flashing” seemed to function for their similes. The former a bit corny, pardon the pun. The latter seemed a bit lazy to me, perhaps even cliched.
One track that stood out well was “Nonfiction”. It starts out with a tickling guitar and some drums that ease in then trumpets add a flavor to the song while you wait for the rapping to begin. Musically, it reminded me of something The J.Davis Trio might try. The rap seems to flow nicely, such as “you say you bombed the club and left a deep crater/most of what we think is real is theater.” The song starts to come together nicely but the refrain is a bit troublesome as the female vocalist sounds like she’s singing through water; all that’s missing is a gurgling sound. There’s a secondary part to the refrain where they let the vocalist just sing normally without vocal distortion and she sounds much better.
For the most part, it’s little things like that which make the album fall short. Outside of “Nonfiction” I never felt that the music was bridging a gap with the vocals. If anything, there was dissonance between the two. I found myself either listening to one or the other without being able to listen to them both simultaneously.
In the opening of his MTV Unplugged performance, Jay-Z joked to the crowd welcoming them all to his poetry reading. In a way, Live City reminds me of those stereotypical depictions of wannabe beat poets; you know, the cafe kids who wear black pants, black turtlenecks, black berets, and possibly black rimmed glasses. They get up with a bongo and start banging away as they read something “brilliant” they’ve just written. The bongo has nothing to do with poem. Now, I’m not saying Felonious’s emcees write “brilliant” flows, I mean they actually write some good flows, but the music starts to feel like the bongos. It’s kinda there, on its own, without adding anything to the songs. They may be better as a live act where you see the group interact with each other and the crowd but unfortunately, on the album, they just seem flat.
MP3: Felonious “Soul Man”
Buy: iTunes or Amazon
Felonious: Live City