The Problem with Rap Music, in this writer and long-time hip-hop fan's opinion, is that while the market is glutted with cutting-edge beats, the raps bouncing along on top of them are pitifully drunk on big money. I don't recall who originally said it, but it has been mentioned more than a few times before I said it that rap music and R&B are in their hair-metal phase. Style has not only defeated substance, it has taken it out to the club parking lot and beaten it within an inch of its life with an oversized platinum and diamond neck chain. Lyrics tend to be weak at best (seriously, you could program a computer to come up with some of these lyrics…just take a few catchphrases and mix 'em up) and luridly and calculatedly offensive at worst…all in the service of the almighty dollar.
One collective of artists on the Flint hip-hop scene that has avoided this seductive trap while keeping the heads nodding has been the Rosta Records family. Rosta is dedicated to "reality rap," or as a bold manifesto in the form of a warning sticker inside the booklet of Main Event's latest CD Director's Cut puts it, "There will be no crack sold on this album, no hood beefs, no black on black crime, and no mimicking of pop culture." (You know, the stuff that sells records these days.) The lyrical content on Main's disc lives up to that claim and he keeps the discourse serious and thoughtful in a manner that harkens back to the classic rappers of the early 90s.
The music is similarly old school, a sample-based collage of soulful sounds on top of punchy drum machine beats. If this album has a weakness, it is that the rhythms sometimes don't quite rise up to the level of the lyrics in terms of emotional directness and originality. The sped-up vocal sample trick sounds cool, but unfortunately makes the listener that's a bit older think of the RZA and the younger listener think of Kanye. Don't get me wrong…there's nothing actually wrong with the music, and you will enjoy it, but an MC like Main Event is crying out (whether he knows it or not) for some seriously exciting beats to suck the casual listener into listening to what he has to say. If the musical content were to match the refreshing honesty of the vocals, this album might have taken Main Event to the main stage. As it is, this is a very successful local release that will no doubt be a stepping-stone to greater things. Director's Cut (as well as fellow Rosta wunderkind Theory's CD and the forthcoming album by G-Wiz) can be purchased online at www.rostarecords.com, and locally at Music Planet, Wyatt Earp Records and Discount CDs & Tapes. You can also meet up with the Rosta Records family and share your own talents at the regular open mic night at the Loft in downtown Flint on the last Thursday of every month.
And now for something completely different, to say the least. Deathstrange, a band comprised of veterans of the Flint punk and metal scene (Brian T. Orr of Smiling Sacrifice, Mike Deathstrange of Psychotic Playground, R.B. Suave of Smiling Sacrifice and Tim "Amigo" Flynn, who has probably played drums with someone you know, no matter who you are), has released a three song demo called American Satan. Although I have my doubts as to the actual value of returning to good old-fashioned devil metal, the guys in the band are obviously having a blast and the musicianship is lean, mean and muscular in a Motorhead-y kind of way. Orr's vocals are (as usual) pretty much a tuneless shouting, but he makes up for his lack of…well, singing with a recklessly priapic punk-rock enthusiasm. The sound quality of the recording is somewhat lacking; but what the hell, it's a demo. Final verdict: kinda rough, and really stupid, but one hell (sorry) of a lot of fun. Check 'em out online at www.myspace.com/deathstrange.