» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Crown City Rockers
Basement Records

Rating: 9/10 ?

May 16, 2006
It is tough to argue that organic agriculture isn't beneficial to you or your surroundings. The same can be said of hip-hop; live instrumentals of hardcore funk, soul, and jazz mixed with the classic B-boy essence of rhymes and beat machines simply exude wholesomeness. Organic compositions make for an authentic sound that in turn provides entertaining shows and a hook to brings back the respect of hip-hop under the umbrella of music. It is the collaboration of creative minds acting as one that solo artists and studio-written beats will never duplicate. To date the challenge has been in finding a way of expressing this organic force in the studio and, in turn, on recorded material. The hard work that is evident in Crown City Rockers' Earthtones pays off huge, when they strike the critical balance of studio vs. live sound.

The Crown City Rockers, an Oakland-based street ensemble formally known as Mission, are perhaps best described by a 2001 review in XLR8R Magazine which encouraged listeners to "imagine Herbie Hancock meets A Tribe Called Quest at a party where the D.J. has a Jimi Hendrix hangover, but he's rockin' Stevie Wonder and Biz Markie."

That amalgamation began as a crucial evolution between their 2001 debut LP, Mission: One, and Earthtones, which dropped in 2004. One was a grassroots success equivalent with their live shows, helping them gain a loyal following and attain respect amongst their peers. Fast forward to Earthtones, which finds the group polishing their studio sounds and including sampled hooks without sacrificing the high energy of their performances and variable jazz blends. This evolution draws an eerie parallel to megagroup influence The Roots, who were great at translating their live sounds and group instrumentals onto wax while continually polishing their studio skills.

Unfortunately, as with most "improvements," the glossed studio sound comes with certain sacrifices, most notably the extended solo instrumentals that highlight each of the five members' musical talents. I hope their loyal following can admire the direction of the album, which was to be played by a greater reach in order to switch mainstream, high-production consumers to organic. Don't worry though, out of countless songs put to tape in the studio the Rockers "widdled it to 19 tracks" - which hopefully means that b-sides and uncut versions will eventually be released.

The Crown City Rockers' musical range is well represented on this album, with funk-laden jams like "Another Day" and "No Sense" butting seamlessly against tracks of synthesized smooth jazz spread over intricate drumbeats in "Fate" and "Protease." Formed, heavy, club-hitting beats in "Fortitude" push and pull with ensemble instrumentals like "D Minor Nine". Overall the album gives a true expression of positive emotion. In "Sidestep" you can smell the perfect sunny day in NorCal alongside an isolated beach.

The true star of Earthtones is lead vocal Raashan Ahmad, who stepped up as the only MC of the group after co-rhymer Moe Pope left to pursue projects out east. Raashan delivered with great maturity, clever flows, and lyrical props to his influences. He serves as the staple of the old school B-boy essence for Crown City, but he wasn't left completely alone at the mic; fellow Bay Area legends Gift of Gab (Blackalicious), Scarub (Living Legends), and Zion I contributed their trademark styles. In "Without Love" the instruments switch gears to a heavily synthesized cosmic beat while Zion I and Raashan showcase their flows.

On Earthtones the Crown City Rockers come across like an exciting breath of fresh air wafting into a smoky, sweaty studio, an illustration of the sustainability and positive direction of hip-hop. Much like the great taste of a tree-ripened organic apple, the great sound and energy of live instrumentals will always prevail. Still touring in support of Earthtones but reportedly working on material for a new album, expect Crown City Rockers to lead the way in the burgeoning organic hip-hop movement.

Reviewed by Ted Nixon
A contributing writer based in Oakland, California, Ted Nixon covers hip-hop releases for LAS.

See other reviews by Ted Nixon



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