Most agree that Los Angeles is the city responsible for putting Gangsta Rap on the map and the influential G-Funk sound dominated both the Hip Hop and Pop charts during the mid-’90s. Some people forget that, amidst the short-lived exposure of the art form’s more violent aspects, the Southland has always supported a thriving Underground scene that aims to preserve the culture’s roots (i.e., DJing, B-boying and graffiti) and add heavy doses of positive energy and creative flair into the genre.
Giant Panda is a LA -based underground Hip Hop crew, composed of Newman, Maanumental and Chikaramanga, who follow in the footsteps of the Left Coast Underground movement’s more established peers (i.e., The Pharcyde, Jurassic 5 and PUTS), exuding plenty of goodwill, good vibes and good intentions. In addition to the bilingual rapping of one of its members (Chikaramanga), the trio specializes in making feel-good throwback music, with sample-heavy beats and fast-paced rhymes that are on par with the Golden Era aesthetic. Electric Laser is their second full-length and continues the old school revelry with a few new tricks up their sleeve.
There are positive signs that growth and maturity are an important aspect of the group’s musical evolution. On “AIM,” the group veers in a completely different direction, combining soft-spoken, introspective rhymes with a sparse Jazzy beat that effortlessly showcases both the untapped creativity of the crew and the purposeful nature of their being. “Pops” is another standout track that utilizes a ’70s dance-style tune as rapper Newman waxes poetic about his dad’s sexual orientation and the prevalence of homophobia in Hip Hop (and society in general). Last but not least, “Let it Go” is a laid-back track that reveals the group’s profound views on how to deal with life’s struggles and the general lack of creativity that is currently plaguing their beloved genre.
Some songs on Electric Laser do suffer when the trio’s tried-and-true formula is pushed beyond its limits. For example, take “Do the Robot in Cyberspace”. It’s a nice, energetic track with fluid rhyming but the contrived and gimmicky nature of the nerdy subject matter make it sound less-than-appealing. Also, “Precise Calculator” is an excellent showcase for Chikaramanga‘s Japanese rhyme skills but his English rapping is not as refined and smooth as it should be, especially compared to the other two rappers in the group. “Cinemax” is yet another faux pas in Giant Panda‘s catalog, a glaringly obvious tongue-in-cheek ode to the “Rap Slow Jam” that might elicit smiles and giggles from their female listeners but not much else.
Although Gangsta Rap will always be championed by many as the most influential contribution that the City of Angels has given to Hip Hop culture, there are those who are aware of the city’s talented Underground artists who have and who are contributing to the evolution of the music by staying positive and remaining true to the essence. Giant Panda, relative newcomers on the scene, want to solidify their position as venerable Left Coast representatives. Electric Laser, their newest album, is a worthwhile addition to their growing catalog and a glowing testament to their allegiance to Rap’s Golden Era and creative ingenuity.