With a roster boasting heavyweights like Blackalicious, DJ
Shadow and Lyrics Born fans have come to expect great
things from the Quannum crew’s brand of conscious Hip Hop.
Back for their sophomore outing, Portland trio Lifesavas have
taken on the personas of Sleepy Floyd, Bumpy Johnson, and Jimmy
Slimwater, portrayed by Jumbo the Garbageman, Vursatyl,
and DJ Shines respectively. Billed as an original soundtrack – albeit
to a movie that doesn’t exist – Gutterfly is a journey through the
mean streets of Razorblade City, a setting right out of a blaxploitation flick,
where funk is king. They rhyming is handled by Vurs and Jumbo,
who also handles most of the production while mixing in lots of live
instrumentation as well.
Obviously with a blaxploitation theme there is a heavy 70’s funk and soul
influence, and that vibe is definitely created successfully. The problem with
that is not only that it gets redundant after awhile, but also that it tends to
blend together in spots and fails to really hold attention. While there are no
tracks that fail miserably, there aren’t very many truly amazing moments
either. The most shining exception would be “Freedom Walk” featuring Dead
Prez and Vernon Reid of Living Colour, who lends his
talents on the guitar.
Another gem is “Night
Out,” a two part tale of racial profiling and a robbery gone awry
featuring The King of Interplanetary Funksmanship himself, George
Clinton. The thing both of these songs have in common is the fact that
they have a lot of substance to them, which is important when you’re making a
concept album that only utilizes a vague resemblance of a cohesive story.
Another similarity I think it’s important to point out is that both of these
songs feature other artists contributions, and it seems like said situation
seems to really push Vurs and Jumbo to step
it up themselves. That being said, when forced to hold it down on their own
things can get a little dull. A prime example is “Shine Language,” a song with a
great name that has duo trying too hard over a very monotonous beat.
For the most part, the flaws of this record have a lot to do with “style
over substance”. The overall funkiness is amazing, and done well, but not very
original at all. Vursatyle has been quoted as saying “The
goal was anybody who picked up the Lifesavas
record could dig it. Anybody could take something from the Lifesavas record and enjoy it,” but it seems like they may
have played it a little too safe. None of the music seems to challenge the
listener or the artists and that makes it feel a little blander than it actually
is. In short, this is the type of music that ends up becoming background
atmosphere, and not the type of record I would go and recommend to a friend
(which I did with Spirit In Stone). It’s worth checking out just for
the consistent smoothness of the production and several stellar guest
appearances but don’t expect to be blown away.