Hip Hop is a lot like alcohol: every style has its own unique flavor and potency. Like Onyx [click to read], some liquors hit hard and leave your insides burning. Others brands are watered-down and artificially flavored to appeal to an audience lacking the mettle to stomach anything short of a soda, much like LL Cool J. And then there are the classic malts: never too light, but always strong enough to never leave you questioning when it'll take effect. And in that respect, the Brown Bag AllStars are that genuine draft with their debut project The Brown Tape.
The seven-piece outfit, featuring emcees Audible Doctor, J57, KONCEPT, Soul Khan and former member Cold Codeine, sound like a throwback to the hardcore '90s. They lace their rapid-fire bars with head-turning metaphors, tongue twister internal rhymes and punch lines that when delivered correctly, rival the impact of a haymaker from Rocky Marciano. KONCEPT and Audible Doctor seamlessly weaving in and out of the beats, while J57 laces his verbiage with enough elusive lyrical gems to warrant restarting the track multiple times. For example, on the song "Dinner's Ready," J57 spits, "I trip on the beat, look down to where you could get it/Come on feet, like Lord Quas with a foot fetish." Yet it's Soul Khan who proves to be the AllStars' best, with a voice that resembles Aesop Rock [click to read] after downing half a bottle of gin sans chaser. He comes off as the Ol' Dirty Bastard of the group, spitting lines raunchy enough to make R. Kelly blush. On the song "Get Up," he gives U-God's [click to read] opening verse to "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" a truly classy spin, saying "Raw, I'ma give it to ya, I fucked a pigeon named Olivia / Until I caught myself Chlamydia."
The content of The Brown Tape, while not necessarily diverse or surprising, fits the group's punch line-heavy style perfectly. For the majority of the LP, they stick to flaunting their own deft lyrical ability. Songs like the "GHB," "Raw Daddy" and the opener "Undeniable" are perfect examples of the AllStars at the best with braggadocios. As Soul Khan so subtly notes on the first of these three cuts, "I'm in a class of my like the day after Columbine." Yet the BBAS do ensure that The Brown Tape isn't fourteen tracks worth of flaunt and flash. The emcees deal with a number of topical issues, from alcoholism ("Can't Walk Away"), to the hustle in the city ("Poison Apple"), to even status of the Hip-Hop game ("Lou Reed"). Cuts like these add the perfect amount of introspection and maturity to an otherwise solid album of battle tracks, proving that BBAS has more to over than just great bars.
Unfortunately, the AllStars aren't always on their A-game. Many times throughout the project, the emcees slip into a pattern of corny rhyming. While such problems usually happen on an individual basis, a few of the album's songs are so marred by lyrical inadequacy that they simply don't work. The songs "It's the And..." and "Cut You" fall flat from sheer lyrical inanity ("We're all broke, but we enjoy riding foreign cars/Top down with porn stars, Brown Bag AllStars"). Yet BBAS hit their lowest on the song "Robo Trippin,'" which feels like a desperate attempt to mimic Houston's sound by way of Drake. To some, such errors may seem insignificant, but in actuality, they show that the AllStars still have a great deal of room for growth as emcees.
The Brown Tape's production, handled entirely by J57 and Audible Doctor, proves to be the group's ace in the hole. Both producers further solidify the group's old school influence with their heavily sampled beats. From the threatening "Poison Apple," with its heavy drums and mournful vocal wailing, to the sparse guitar twangs on "The Boss is Back," J57 gives the album a professional yet equally gritty sound. Similarly, Audible Doctor's soulful "Can't Walk Away" perfectly juxtaposes the DJ Premier-esque "Undeniable," complete with booming sample and cut-and-scratch chorus. The album's production does have its problems, although they are very few in number. J57's "Robo Tippin'" sounds muddled, while the piano loop on Audible Doctor's "It's the And..." doesn't wholly match the drum loop. Yet these issues pale in comparison to the brilliant production that both producers provide for the rest of the album.
In a time when Auto-Tune has underground Hip Hop even more polarized against the mainstream, BBAS' The Brown Tape marks the blueprint of a group that will surely become a fan favorite. And while The Brown Tape may not be up to par with Patron, cracking this cold one open won't be a decision to regret.