After years of quietly putting themselves out on notice without whoring
themselves out like every other group of ‘mixtape rappers’, Strong Arm
Steady finally graces us with Deep Hearted, their debut LP.
For those who aren’t in the know, S.A.S. was originally
engineered by Xzibit and despite the departure of their
founder (which believe it or not was on good terms), Phil Da Agony,
Mitchy Slick, and Krondon have remained intact
reppin’ true West Coast Hip Hop with everything they got.
Ironically, the very California Deep Hearted comes by way of the
very New York based Nature Sounds label. Now, I’ve written
reviews for a couple of Nature Sounds posse cuts in the past,
and have criticized the inclusion of Strong Arm because of how
‘West Coast’ dudes are, and frankly it just didn’t fit in with the prominent
Brooklyn sound. But, with Deep Hearted you pretty much get a
180-degree flip. With Da Riffs, DJ Khalil, Will Blast, Phil and
Planet Asia handling the majority of the production, S.A.S.
crafted a record much more cohesive effort than the guest
spotted mixtapes and cuts they’ve previously been accustomed to. “Blood Money”
Words” are the types of joins I miss more than just about anything
and whether or not Khalil meant to do it, his sonic Quik
impersonation is more than on point.
J Thrill gets special attention simply for producing two of
the albums standout tracks in “My Homies” and “On The Grind.” Blaqtoven
lends his bars on the former where Phil, Mitch and Kron
go on about the importance of something that seems to be lost in Hip Hop today
– loyalty. “On
The Grind” is the grown-man track that may be refreshing nowadays
but was the norm 15 years back. Remember when dudes had to hustle not to be
cool, but to survive? I do.
In true form with all Nature Sounds projects, the guest
spots come in full force as Tha Liks, Saukrates, Black Thought, Ras
Kass, Chamillionaire, X to the Z, Dilated Peoples, Juvenile
and several others show up for verses. There’s even (two separate) soundbytes
from Game and 50 showing love for Phil
If anything, it’s the presence of all of the non-Cali dudes that take away
from the record. I have a very biased affinity for cohesive records, so even
when there’s a Madlib joint with Black Thought
verse, it doesn’t matter how dope the track is (and trust me, “Clean Up” is
ridiculous), I can’t help but think that it just doesn’t fit. The same goes for
another monster cut in “Co-Operation” manned by Babu and Dilated,
the hardest beat on the record courtesy of Thayod Ausar on “I Can’t Wait,”
or the cuts featuring Blacksmith boss, Talib Kweli.
I’m not sure if it makes any sense to any of you – that the main flaws
with the record come via some of the best tracks – but that’s how it is. Hell,
depending on who you ask, a record that gives you some of Compton, Brooklyn,
and New Orleans at the same time, and does it well, could be the dopest shit
ever. Regardless of any of that, one thing’s for sure, Strong Arm
Steady’s Deep Hearted definitely has something for everyone.