Modern Hip Hop lyricism, in many ways, evolved in the shape of a circle. Circle by circle, crew by crew, city by city, raps fed off of the scraps that came before them and created something new. The quality and complexity of rapping intensified in circles and eventually fragmented into the dozens of sub-genres of Hip Hop that now exist. These Rap circles were called ciphers.
Da Circle is a “love-the-smell-of-napalm-in-the-morning” music partnership between Brooklyn’s Goodtime Slim and Fatz D’ Assassin from the Bronx. The Big Apple natives spent the last few years warming-up crowds for Immortal Technique all around the world. Skipping below most radars during 2009 and 2010, Slim and Fatz put together two mixtapes. Circle Muzik Vol. 1 and the Statik Selektah-hosted The S.A.F.E. set the knuckled-up, all-real-everything, tone for the group’s debut.
360 Deal is a 17-song statement of purpose for Da Circle. On “Circle Anthem,” Slim goes in early, “Slim and Fatz with aluminum bats / Getting maximum distance from you minimum cats / Spittin’ masculine writtens on you feminine acts / And my freestyles are hittin’ like invisible slaps.” From the jump, it’s obvious the two can spit. As apparent is their unwavering determination to create vintage Hip Hop. This theme booms during “Reality Check” and on the sentimental “Underground.”
The Viper Records pair enlisted like-minded muscle including Ill Bill, Posion Pen and Hasan Salaam. To further flex their feature chops, Immortal Technique took to “Napalm,” the projects most memorable moment. The siren-synth throbbing, flamethrower banger is jammed to the lid with an inspired lyrical tone to match the spirited instrumental. Unfortunately, Tech’s signature political conspiracy musings and calls-to-arms hint at concepts that are disappointingly absent elsewhere on the album.
The embers Tech stirs fade, while Slim and Fatz focus on a more flat message of Hip Hop backtracking. It’s hard to argue that Slim and Fatz aren’t keeping it real. It’s equally difficult not to champion their idealistic “just beats and rhymes” philosophy. Yet, being underground shouldn’t be limiting. The self-imposed shackles of this underground prison have bound whatever creativity the two have from finding its way through the bars. Instead, they decide to keep it a little too real.
The gradually curving debut takes a jagged turn for the worse during the album’s second half. “Going Crazy” is merely a laundry list of things that irritate the emcees. These, serialized in a nagging hook, include “pissy staircases,” “wack pussy,” and “bird shit.” “Swallowtics” broadcasts an even more ugly wane of the arc. Fatz finds himself power washing tonsils, crushing a uterus, and “filling ya gut with babies.” Meanwhile Slim boasts, “I got a pot a pot to piss in / It’s your mouth girl / Listen.” These nuance-free hiccups of expression add no content value, instead just pose a minefield of remarkably unpleasant imagery.
In an interview with DXnext last month, Fatz emphasized that in today’s music climate, “You just have to record fast, you have to get used to going into a session and bang out six songs just because.” It’s hard to not chalk these tracks up to a rushed recording regiment. Along with “Spanish Fly,” the lack-of-focus album lapses are tough sells for any artist who chooses to undertake a serious undertone.
Their stern mission to recreate vintage, straightforward Hip Hop is admirable, but a spark of novelty would have done their debut a world of good. Throughout the album Da Circle mostly stick to the script. The follow-the-recipe approach yields an age-old slice of Hip Hop that’s wholesome but wildly ordinary for anyone outside of their ideological oval. After all, drawing a circle is trickier than it looks. In fact, without the right tools, the careful hands of surgeon, and an apt amount of time, you’ll more than likely wind up with a jagged, mundane sphere.
Try hosting a cipher in that.