While the journey of Strong Arm Steady may begin for some through their alliance with Talib Kweli and Blacksmith Music in 2007, or more recently their collaborative project with Madlib, make no mistake this trio of west coast emcees have paid dues to finally see the release of their proper debut Arms & Hammers. Initially beginning as an eight-man set in 2003, Krondon, Phil Da Agony and Mitchy Slick carry their flag into the Hip Hop arena with hopes of bridging the gap between old-school legends and new-school shakers.
Whereas In Search of Stoney Jackson... featured an eclectic collage of unexpected yet convincing records with the Beat Konducta, Arms & Hammers gets to the heart of the S.A.S. manifesto with gritty narratives from the streets of Southern California. One has to look no further than “Klack Or Get Klacked” a menacing record that has Phil aiming lyrical shots at the LAPD while Mitchy Slick brazenly outlines the everyday corner activities in San Diego. Then there’s the all-encompassing anthem “Gangsta’s,” where DJ Khalil’s thumping production allows S.A.S. ample freedom to map out their former stomping grounds.
The most significant alteration that separates Arms & Hammers from the groups’ previous releases is their maturity on topics that don’t necessarily deal with hood raps. Rhyming alongside the likes of Talib Kweli, KRS-One and Planet Asia on the enlivening track “All The Brothers,” Phil Da Agony arguably walks away with the most memorable line when he spits, “We went from chains on the boat / To getting change for the words that we wrote / Even Obama took notes.” Switching gears, the desolate vibe found on “When Darkness Falls” gives way to pensive lyricism. From dealing with lost urban youth to locked-up brethren, Strong Arm Steady trade in their usually-boastful words for serious commentary on the struggles that rampantly continue due to negligence.
On the flip side, the album suffers from tracks better described as carelessly casual. Though slightly catchy, the bass-pounding “Trunk Music” provided by Lamar (of 1500 or Nothin’) is a one-dimensional record that only satisfies if you’re looking for all style and little substance. Attempting to outdo their first version on Stoney Jackson, the hazy atmosphere created on “Chiba Chiba Pt. 2” wears off fairly quickly without any residual allure. Going the female route, the Kurupt-assisted “Blow My Horn” surprisingly works with its polished G-Funk melody and animated lyrics. However, the same can’t be said for “Make Me Feel,” where a ride-or-die chick concept falters over heavy synths and buzzing drums from Jelly Roll.
Built on raw production homegrown in Los Angeles and a lyrical demeanor that shouts “Westside till I die,” Arms & Hammers caters to the hustlers on the corner as well as the listener searching for some mood music. Sure, the album may have its lapses, but overall Strong Arm Steady have in Arms & Hammers a product that should solidify their presence as a force to be reckoned with. For the time being though, pop this in the deck and picture yourself rollin’.