It's not that often that you get albums/compilations with real specific, creative themes. The last one which really sticks out in my mind was Prince Paul's 'Prince Among Thieves.' That had some originality within it, and it was an LP described as a Hip-Hopera because of its theme. 'Gun Hill Road' comes roughly along similar lines. Mike Ladd created a sort of split world relating to what occurs these days in Hip Hop. On the one side, there are the underground artists (known as the Infesticons on this LP) and the mainstream artists (or the Majesticons on this LP).
The inlay cover of the album describes the plot of 'Gun Hill Road,' how "Poof na na" (I wonder who he's referring to there) created the Majesticons, a set of robots who were set to "jiggify the five boroughs." The introduction to the album ('Cinderella Theme') describes what is said as well as the inlay cover does, this theme created is followed throughout the album.
What 'Gun Hill Road' is, cannot be described as a strictly Hip Hop LP. You don't put it on and just bop your head to the beats and recite the lyrics, this album is more than that. It's a story, which doesn't completely finish with the end of the material.
The entire production of the LP is done by Mike Ladd with certain other artists helping him along the way. There are some choice guests, which people will instantly recognize. For example, Mr. Len features upon the track 'Grinders Theme' by Mums, handling the cuts. The track features interesting music, and word chanting above it. It can't be classed as a rap track, but can be classed as interesting. Company Flow comes into effect again at the end of the LP with the last track 'Night Theme' as El-P (known here as Infesticon #.01) rides a slightly sinister-computerized-funky beat. Yes, I know that sounds weird, the beat is too. The track also features Mike Ladd (Infesticon #0) and Madashellicon (Mr Len).
Also, none other than Saul Williams is featured on here. Saul is an Infesticon, and what I'd heard of him before this didn't prepare me at all for his 'Monkey Theme.' I had heard him, and believed him to be a very talented soulful singer. Here, over a completely crazy beat, Saul basically goes...crazy. This track does, however, grow on you over time.
The Infesticons, as 'Gun Hill Road' is by them, run the show here, but, there is a Majesticon track. Majesticon 69 and Dana cover the 'Shampoo Theme.' And, to be quite honest, it doesn't sound like something which could be thrust into the mainstream somewhere. The thing is, it's also pretty shit. Which I believe was intentional on the part of Mike Ladd to showcase the worthlessness of the Majesticons.
'Hero Theme' sees Mike Ladd making a track dissing the mainstream (the Majesticons), he rhymes fairly well and the hook "God bless the Infesticons / Fuck the Majesticons !" sums up the entire basis of 'Gun Hill Road' which I believe was to verbally attack the mainstream in a more intellectual manner.
'Gun Hill Road' is one of the best thought out releases in a long time, but, my problem is that not all the rhymes and hooks do the subject matter justice. Mike Ladd has created an interesting concoction, well worth peeping, but don't go into it looking for any sort of a normal Hip Hop album. This album follows it's subject matter very well, and it has a good subject matter, so, it works.