Swollen Members have developed quite a North American following over the last 10 years. Hailing from Vancouver and official Rock Steady Crew affiliates, the respect that they have garnished from fans and dope emcees alike has cemented their spot within hip hop’s current structure. Their dark brand of Hip Hop, mixed with clever lyrics and flow allow them to have the likes of Talib Kweli [click to read] and Tech N9ne [click to read] bless their latest project, Armed To The Teeth.
With legal and drug issues derailing their career for a few years, Swollen Members return with their catchiest title yet. Throughout the album, they try to live up to the title by dabbling their hand into Hip Hop’s latest gimmicks, at times sarcastically, and trying to expand their fan base. Swollen Members indeed try to demonstrate their full arsenal. When using their weapon or content of choice, dark subject matter, they shine. “Kyla” [click to listen] and “Funeral March” stand out as well as the opening track, “Here We Come.” Mad Child and Prevail sound most comfortable over dark production, where they seemingly are able to compose the last few years of their life on wax. They paint a vivid picture when they are in their element and it gives fans a detailed look on what inspires them to create.
Unfortunately when they attempt to wander outside of their comfort zone and showcase other areas of their arsenal they more than often fails. “Porno Star” suffers from a tired concept and poor hook, while “Bollywood Chick” [click to listen] seems awkwardly out of place and is saved from disaster only by a Tech N9ne appearance. Poor hooks and questionable topics are scattered throughout the album, dragging down its overall quality. For every dope track like “Lonely One” there is “Flyest,” which is either attempting to mock commercial hip hop or fit in, but regardless of its intent, may not belong on Armed To The Teeth.
Swollen Members fills the album with guest spots. Talib Kweli kills a verse, and the aforementioned Tech N9ne blesses the album as does Everlast, Glasses Malone [click to read] and a rare-but-dope, appearance from Saafir. The guests do their jobs breathing additional life into the album and there seems to be good chemistry between Swollen Members and their guests on each track. Lyrically, they take to the task of not being outshined or murdered on their own track. Mad Child and Prevail rise to the occasion on each track with a guest spot (with the exception of “Bollywood Chick”) which in itself is a testament of their ability.
In the album they make a claim that “Hip Hop isn’t dead its just hardly breathing” and throughout the album they do little to resuscitate the art. For every track that is filled with competent lyrics, and dark thumping beats, there are failed commercial efforts that come across second or third rate. As Swollen Members try to continue and build upon their successful independent career, they bring a solid but not exceptional album to the table. They still show all signs of what made them the underground darlings a few years back but haven’t evolved to what many of us expected them to be.