(Battleaxe Records BAX1009)
Date: Tue, 09 Apr 2002 15:54:16 +010
Swollen Member’s debut, ‘Balance’, remains one of my favourite hip hop albums ever. Stuffed full of regal rhymes and instant head-nodders, ‘Bad Dreams’ extends that lineage and proves that SM are true stars.
The album opens with a short intro and then we’re into ‘Killing Spree.’ It’s a lolloping, offbeat beat with extra menace added by Mad Child and Prevail’s rapping. A good appetiser for, frankly, a big, heavy platter.
Overall, there’s not as many guest rappers as the first album and this makes it more consistent than a lot of contemporary hip hop. There’s too many hip hop albums with chronic guesteritis, robbing them of their own identity. Where there are guests on this album, like Evidence, Iriscience, Buc Fifty and Son Doobie, they gel organically with SM’s own house style.
And that’s a varied style. You’ve got laid back, funky bobbers like ‘Take It Back’ alongside altogether darker and more scary polemics like ‘Bad Dreams.’ That track comes close to old Gravediggaz-style nightmare imagery but without the Hammer schlock. It’s more precise, less like a spade to your head and more like a needle being pushed into your cornea.
‘Deep End’ kicks off with a muted guitar lick and when the lyrics drop in, you know they’re going to be future classics. Again, it’s the rappers’ rhythmic prowess that makes this track, the way they swerve and tack against the beat, keeping the track moving so you think it’s quite short when it’s over three minutes.
‘Snake Bite’ reminds me most of Dead Prez’ ‘Be Healthy.’ Like that track, it shares a very hooky Spanish/Arabian guitar riff but it’s far less laid back. Rattlesnake Jones guests on this and his rapping is far closer to the mic, more like a nasty whisper which again broadens the palette. Again, SM have reached and won.
‘The Reflection’ is an instrumental track produced by Rob The Viking and it’s a nice little spacer at just the right point. By this time, there’s been a lot of mad lyrics to take in.
‘Ventilate’ is yet another track which demonstrates SM’s pedigree. The whole track is basically Mad Child and Prevail bitching at each other, venting all the shit that must happen and usually isn’t talked about. If someone else had done this, it might sound tricksy but, as they say themselves, [they’re] ‘magnificent together, it’s a perfect combination.’ The final icing on the cake is DP’s DJ Babu providing the cuts. Mmmm…
The final track, ‘High Road’, creates a chilly, worried atmosphere with its piano hook and lyrics that drip with imagery others would kill for. Here’s the depth that’s often missing from backpack turntablism: a narrative structure, a *story* for fuck’s sake! Wasn’t hip hop meant to be *about something*, not just coffee-table ready mute beats, shorn of any potentially difficult content? Grrrr…. (wait for the hidden track at the end of 18, a binky-plinky remix of ‘Take It Back.’)
Over the course of the 18 tracks here, Swollen Members prove to be versatile and inventive, dropping metaphors, similes and references beyond the norm (certainly the first time I’ve heard Penn & Teller namechecked). Couple this with relentlessly inventive loops and hooks and you’ve got one killer of a hip hop album. It’s bloody bassy, it makes your head nod and the lyrics amount to more than rapping how good their rapping is. What more can you ask for?
Buy this album if you like Dilated Peoples, Gang Starr or Deltron. Don’t buy this album if you think lyrics are the least important bit of hip hop,
love and kisses,