The White Collar Criminals album is a little misleading in appearance. The group's name, the member's aliases, their album cover, and the STARCH YA COLLA motto in the lyric sheet all suggest a hip-hop "Office Space" to match 'Cuban Linx''s "Goodfellas." For better or worse, 'invest-mentality' is not this expected comedy album: rather, emcees Jon?Doe and Sankofa along with producers ognihs and Manic Depressive, collectively the Suspended Animators, serve up a fine selection of more varied flavour.
One of the most notable qualities of the WCC is the chemistry, or at least dichotomy, between the two mic-wielders. Sankofa's relentless low-pitched flurry of words is offset by the more endearing flow of Jon, whose sing-song vocals help to get across his dense lyrics. The balance of the two is shown right away on the first vocal song, 'Crash,' a slice-of-life narrative about the lives of our plucky underground emcees. Trading four-bar snippets on driving "like a frenzied madman" or realizing most unreleased songs "don't deserve fame," the contrast of the two flows, along with producer ognihs's beat shifts for each emcee, gives the song a duality and intriguing edge that the bland story alone would lack.
Though the vocalists certainly hold their own, it's the production on 'invest-mentality' that gives it its edge. Though the Suspended Animators are accredited individually, their styles are close enough to sound like a single team. The 'WCC Theme Song,' where the emcees finally follow through on the promise of the cover-art, is dominated by ognihs's live guitar funking up the verses, while Manic Depressive's cuts ground it in a more traditional hip-hop sound. Its main competitor for strongest beat, Manic Depressive's 'Timecards,' similarly uses a repetitive guitar twang and propulsive drums to create a flawless backdrop both emcees to rip the track with probably their most aggressive showings here. Either when complementing the rappers or on their own instrumental tracks, the two musicians always impress.
As the opening 'Crash' suggests, 'invest-mentality' is a lyrically complex album, and the lexical creativity is a double-edged sword for the listener. Some of the concepts, especially the narrative ones, are perfectly executed: 'Multiplicity,' for example, links a literal rape of an ex-wife with the figurative rape of "urban sprawl" in an uneasy consideration of what Jon calls elsewhere "the Great Western Cock piercing its nemesis." Most songs are more personal, however, with the astounding 'Voice' considering the importance of language while Sankofa lays "siege to ramparts pillaging artilleries of prose." Matched by Manic Depressive masterful production, it's probably the best song here. However, often the lyrics get personal to the point of obscurity, and confuse even with the help of a lyrics sheet. 'Mists of Ko' is probably the worst offender in this respect, but the pummeling diction and sometimes-tenuous links from line to line are present on most songs. Obviously this becomes less of a problem with further listens, but more often than not the complexity detracted from my enjoyment of the album.
Still, the WCC's strengths more than outweigh their weaknesses. The beats are always interesting, the vocals always fit just right, and the lyrics are always interesting, if a little "difficult" at times. In the interest of awful puns, let me say that 'invest-mentality' would be well worth your investment.