In the middle of Swollen Members’ Brand New Day track, “Supernova,” DJ Revolution provides a scratched chorus partially comprised of Canibus’ “Get Retarded” and Method Man and Redman’s “How High.” From ‘Bis’s boasts to “travel to the end of the universe and beyond” to Red’s claims to survive “when the planets and the stars and the moons collapse,” there’s a nod to an era when rappers like Inspectah Deck used to “bomb atomically.” In the current climate of melodic R&B/Rap hybrids and other cross-genre blends, such an approach is the Hip Hop equivalent of an endangered species. The abstract wordplay that powered a significant portion of Golden Era Hip Hop may not be trendy anymore, but there’s clearly still an audience for such material.
Through the course of 15 tracks, Swollen Members devote the majority of their time crafting music that audience should appreciate. For those who have been along for the course of the previous nine albums, the title Brand New Day is a bit misleading, as the Vancouver-bred trio provides their familiar brand of technically precise rhymes over dark production. With “Cock Blocker,” Rob The Viking supplies descending horns over a customary combination of snares and kicks, while Madchild offers the following:
“My raps are baffling, they probably think that Mad just daffy / No Mad just happy, kinda batty plus a chatty Cathy / Got a handicap, cap the size of Andy Capp / Got a strap handy in my backpack, best that you’re standing back…”
With most of the tracks clocking in at three minutes, producers Rob The Viking and C-Lance create a fast-paced, frenetic sound bed for Prevail and Madchild. And the pair of emcees flirt with internal rhyme patterns, triplet deliveries, and sprinkle in random references to everything from Star Wars Storm Troopers to goblins and antheridium isotopes.
It’s a winning formula that has created and satiated a loyal fan base across the globe. But over the course of 15 years, sustainability (or perhaps even the group’s own interest) becomes a valid concern. Madchild implied as much during an August, 2013 interview with HipHopDX, saying, “I’m not gonna put myself in a box where I feel like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to talk about wizards, warlords, castles and goblins.’”
Therein lies an inherent though not fatal flaw with Brand New Day. The truly transcendent moments, such as the title track and Madchild’s solo outing on “Park Bench,” are indeed brand new territory. Both tracks are soulful and semi-autobiographical. Over the sparse keys of “Park Bench,” Madchild says, “Life is like a blur / I can be a psycho, but it’s not what I prefer.” But those two songs are also outliers, and it’s nearly impossible to see how they inform the rest of the entertaining chaos on the album in such limited doses. Both styles work—with the latter being a refreshing change of pace—but they’re also somewhat mutually exclusive, resulting in an enjoyable yet inconsistent listen.
Some 15 years into their careers, it’s hard to fault Swollen Members for experimenting—especially when they successfully push beyond their comfort zone. Brand New Day provides a somewhat unbalanced but ultimately pleasing mix of their signature stylings with enough experimentation to both keep things interesting and possibly hint at what’s next for the group.