Album Review: iNDEED – iNDEEDFACE

Posted: October 8, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 4th Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The legitimate production crew or group, as opposed to the group of producers who work individually (eg DITC), is not an aberration in rap music – Organized Noize, Neptunes, Block Beataz, Earthtone III – but it’s not all that common either.  Even less common is getting to hear the group really let their hair down and make music for themselves without serious commercial aspirations getting in the way.  Earthtone III was mainly concerned with producing their own work and that of a few other Dungeon Fam rappers, N.E.R.D. made some great music, but the charts always seemed to be an aim in one form or another, Organized Noize’s closest attempt probably came with the historically snoozed upon Sleepy’s Theme album Vinyl Room.  In many ways Vinyl Room might be a reasonable sonic ancestor for iNDEEDFACE if Sleepy’s Theme had been into psychotropics and irreverence.


iNDEED “Black Tears”

When iNDEED dropped the iNDEED EP, earlier this year, I made the remark in my review ,of the also 5PMG produced Paraphernalia album from Burn One & SL Jones, that the EP begged consideration for album of the year despite it’s short length.  Although the EP was an excellent introduction to the members of Five Points Music Group as a standalone band, the “album of the year” contender comment was probably a bit hasty for a seven song EP.  What the seven song EP did display was the ability to make great individual songs, often in completely different styles, from the Neptunes-esque “More Than a Dance” to the pimp meets mosh-pit “Brass Knuckles,” to the RZA influenced “Black Tears” to the trademarked straight-up 5PMG sound on “The Pinkpather.”  What the EP didn’t quite make clear the direction or vision of the band: Would iNDEED have a frontman or just rotate singers and rappers in? Would they have a signature sound or be more like a stylized hip hop interpolation band?  What was clear was that they could make great music and that they had a lot of fun in the process. In typical tireless DJ Burn One fashion, iNDEED is now back just a few months later to bless us all with a full length project to show a more fully realized vision of precisely what it is that they have to offer the music world.

As rap producers, Burn One and 5PMG stand out for their country rap tune roots, their live instrumentation, and when they find the right artist – as they did with SL Jones this year – for their adventures in hip hop psychedelia.  The value of 5PMG is undeniable in rap music. They provide an organic composed alternative to sample based production, and a sound rooted in southern musical heritage and experimentation as an alternative to trap production.  The question with a group like iNDEED is whether they can transcend the boundaries of being vital components in a rap production crew and become respected by the music community at large as musicians and artists outside the confines of a niche within the rap genre.  Although it was on a larger scale, due to their prominence in rap and R&B’s mainstream in the late nineties, this was the same situation that plagued 5PMG’s Atlanta predecessors Organized Noize for years.  They did amazing work supporting the more prominent acts they worked with, but they – likely purposefully at certain points – didn’t always put the most marketable acts forward.  For the most part, the members of ONP – Rico, Ray, & Sleepy – never built the acts they were directly a part of (Sleepy’s Theme, Society of Soul, and later Sleepy Brown as solo artist) into self-supporting money makers.  The problem with that approach is of course that once the acts that you discover and/or support along the way – OutKast, Goodie Mob, & TLC most notably in ONP’s case – become more independent and move on, you have to help bring along new acts. Alternatively, the Neptunes were probably able to extend their value as artists beyond their days as rap producers du jour thanks to the fact that Pharell asserted himself as an independent artist – albeit primarily a hook crooner – early on, and N.E.R.D. was an established band by the time the rap game had shifted away from the Neptunes “sound.”  Although they may not be the most marketable product on a mainstream level, iNDEED has asserted itself as an act relatively early on in the 5PMG movement and that can’t be a bad thing for their longevity.

Beyond the initial impact of the iNDEED EP there was also a bit of a question as to whether the group had a legitimate frontman – or whether it even needed one.  Although they have the support of the full cadre of 5PMG and its affiliates, iNDEED is billed as the duo of Ricky Fontaine and Walt-Live and their success as a band will depend largely on the success of the two of them as both musicians and vocalists. Ricky Fontaine has shown the ability over the last year specifically to handle hook singing abilities on various DJ Burn One and 5PMG products. Despite Fontaine’s skill and experience as a singer, iNDEED is clearly not comfortable with today’s common constructs of band make-up, which would suggest Ricky as frontman, Walt on back-up vocals, and everybody playing their instruments.  Where the iNDEED EP felt like strong and promising outtakes from a variety of creative sessions, iNDEEDFACE ostensibly retains the jam session vibe, but extends it, sands the edges off – there’s no in your face “Brass Knuckles” type tracks here – and adds in more of the flourishes of psychedelia that the crew displayed so masterfully on Paraphernalia.  Like much of 5PMG’s work, the album has a communal vibe wherein mic time is rotated so frequently it may take the uninitiated listener quite a few listens to sort out who’s who, when Ricky’s on the mic, when Walt’s on the mic, and when someone else entirely (the album has eleven features over the course of seventeen tracks).  To further confound things, Ricky and Walt are both as comfortable crooning as they are rapping here.

The album’s most captivating moments – as they were with SL Jones’s Paraphernalia – are those when the band is comfortable with unbridled experimentation and fusion, seemingly unconcerned with traditional verse, hook, bridge patterns or any of the confining aesthetic boundaries of popular genres on songs like “Fuck Bruce Leroy,” “Late PMS Early AMS,” “The Fear,” “Crown Royalty,” “Federal Reserve,” “Fact or Fantasy,” and “Cadillac Starship.”  That’s not to say the songs are unstructured, or avant-garde for the sake of it, just that the structure is seemingly disinterested in historical musical boundaries and divides, much the same way that Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” rejected the confines of the last 20 years of R&B music. In addition, there is the inspiring re-imagination of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” and the re-purposing of Toto’s “Africa,” on “Endjoy,” and various other moments of homage, nostalgia, and irreverence.  There are a couple of moments on the album that feel a bit like single attempts, “Kevin Durant” a dedication to balling and tricking, and a drinker’s anthem on “Double Cup Ettiquette.”  That said, iNDEED already released the excellent – albeit much less conventional – “The Fear” as the album’s first single, so perhaps “KD” and “Double Cup” are just merely experiments that seem to fall slightly – though not entirely – outside the confines of the album’s cohesive mood.

In typical 5PMG fashion, there are a number of artists who contribute to this project’s success.  Beyond Ricky, Walt, and Burn One, there is of course 5PMG mainstay bassist/drummer/producer The Professor, who was certainly heavily involved here, Richelle L. Brown aka Cornbread shows up as a harmonic foil to Fontaine on four tracks, DJ DiBiase handles the scratches and cuts, and Dez came in to lend live talk box and saxophone to the mix as well.  Individually Rittz, YB, SL Jones, Aleon Craft, Ebony Love, Hibit, and Scotty all drop by to add vocals at one point or another. While all of this may suggest to some that Ricky and Walt need help cover the mic at certain points in the project, it’s all fitting with the tripped out communal vibe of the album, and the project works because the music holds everything together making the project much less dependent on a single voice or individual’s narrative to maintain the album’s cohesion.  Despite the large number of artists involved the album never feels like a compilation or mixtape.  As with any album that moves like a trip – in a physical sense in that the album starts with a trip to California and travels to outer space and the dirty south at different points along the way, and in a psychedelic sense in that the album’s unending party clearly takes on some hallucinogenic qualities – the journey allows for a little more cohesive leeway than other theme’s might.

Ultimately this is a great full-length debut from iNDEED.  iNDEEDFACE is a psychedelic, humorous, soulful, funky, southern hip hop ride which manages to find more cohesion and depth than the iNDEED EP showed.  Ricky and Walt both do a lot to prove themselves as legitimate artists – singers, rappers, and musicians – as well as to justify their positions as DJ Burn One’s go to in-house talent.  Burn One, who likely played the role of Sensei here as much as anything, furthers his own catalog of excellent full-length work and shows the ability to work closely and successfully with artists outside of his traditional scope.

You can also download/stream iNDEEDFACE for free on Livemixtapes.com.  You can also pick up the iNDEED EP there too.

Comments
  1. I have to say, after a few listens this album is growing on me.

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