In a few months, Hip Hop will begin officially celebrating the 20th anniversary of a handful of albums that helped characterize the ‘90s. In April, the web will almost certainly be flooded by Illmatic and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik features, and September might as well be Ready to Die month. By comparison, Organized Konfusion’s Stress: The Extinction Agenda, which was released in August of the same year, will probably fetch a little less consideration. Still, and noticeably as their sophomore release, Stress found both emcees at their very best and has rightfully endured as an underground classic.
The group rang in their milestone early last month with a performance of the album in Brooklyn, and Prince Po’s latest record fittingly carves out a spot for Pharoahe Monch as well. If only for the amount of music he’s released since OK’s last album, Monch has paved the more noticed path in the industry. But Prince Po, after quietly dropping an album in 2012 to break a six-year dry spell, has chosen a good time to team up with Oh No.
The lead single, “Toxic,” is a fair cross section of the album’s grimier side with its dark piano loop and marching beat. Both emcees kick imaginatively violent scenarios that hinge on their own abstract brags: “Lethal injections in ya veins, I’m a prophet / Sulfuric acid setting into your brains it’s acrostic.” Oh No’s verse, which is his only on the album, manages to follow up Po nicely thanks to a surprisingly agile flow and some clever references (including a Heisenberg-like ricin threat). While Oh No’s production is never laid-back, not all of the album is as forward as “Toxic.” “Machine Rages,” with its more politically channeled anger on Po’s end, kicks off the release at a tensely slow pace in comparison.
The rest of the album’s features are spread out over four songs, but Monch’s appearance on “Smash,” with Stress collaborator OC alongside as well, is an obvious pick for the album’s most gratifying reunion. Particularly given the somewhat focused subject matter, the song is thankfully more than just a space for nostalgia, but OC does hark back in his verse. “Allow me to do my thing / Career long as Yao Ming’s arm length / The tale of the tape reaches far beyond so / Let’s be honest / My team mix-matched with legal dudes and convicts,” he raps. Monch’s third verse is a practice in his fragmented but on-beat style. “If she’s intelligent she’ll increase my diction / Pulp Fiction / Cult flick / Hulk..smash / Culprit, passion / Adult Swim, brash,” he raps.
Throughout the album, both Oh No and Prince Po pull off a thematically aggressive project without being too one-dimensional. Prince switches lanes from lyricism for its own sake to cautionary tales and political raps and Oh No’s production maintains its grittiness without relying on the same sounds over and over. On “Where U Eat” and elsewhere, he builds up a brooding effect with repetitive synths, but hard-hitting sample chops achieve a similar feel on “Givitup.” As a whole, the album is balanced enough, but it does end up striking the same note at least one times too many. Still, with the first two singles previewing the release’s harder sound, listeners can expect a little more range than they allow. Prince Po’s lyrical appeal has never been his simplicity, but Animal Serum isn’t a demanding listen either. With the added allure of Oh No’s consistency, Po has plotted a convincing resurgence.