An album like CunninLynguists' 2001 release "Will Rap For Food" must be a touch bittersweet for its creators. After all, how does one follow up a release so acclaimed as the group's debut? After two years production, the addition of an additional emcee, SOS [featured on "Will Rap For Food" on "Ain't No Way"], and new management by Freshchest Records, the newly adapted Southern trio returns in 2003 with an impressive follow-up to their remarkably successful freshman release.
Although "Will Rap For Food" was made popular by rapper-producer Kno's widely acclaimed instrumentals, he has certainly outdone himself on his second major project. The production on "Southernunderground" is consistent with the remarkable style and reputation that was so firmly established and celebrated after the release of "Will Rap For Food." As such, Kno's mastery of the art of creating hip hop instrumentals proves to be the inevitable focal point of the album; fluid and impeccably crafted, Kno's beats on "Southernunderground" far surpass those which sold listeners on "Will Rap For Food." The variety of samples are exceptionally molded and manipulated into a veritable hip hop opus of soulful, melodious masterpieces, each with individual character and flavor that sets and impeccable tone for the album. Kno's work is complimented nicely with the addition of immaculately produced tracks by fellow QN5 Music producer Domingo [title track "Southernunderground"], Freshchest Prose ["Sunrise/Sunset"], and Def Jux notable RJD2 on the lead single "Seasons," which features Masta Ace. The unique essences of each beat are combined to set a flawlessly created stage for thoroughly masterful lyrical performances.
After having taken the reins of "Will Rap For Food," two years appear to have given emcee Deacon the Villain adequate opportunity for some mental marination. His performance on "Will Rap For Food" was certainly characterized by a combination of playful and braggadocious punchlines and simple, insightful digressions. Deacon excels on "Southernunderground" by employing a variety of verbal styles. His presence is incredibly strong, as each verse comes off sounding complete and polished. Regardless of the tone of each track, he exemplifies the thorough control of lyrical delivery characteristic of a seasoned performer.
For most emcees, coupling Deacon's impeccable verbal efforts would be a difficult feat. However, newcomer SOS proves himself to be up to the task at hand; from a lyrical standpoint, he is understated and a bit subdued, yet through his profound skill as a writer, coupled with equally matched delivery, SOS proves to be quite impressive. At the same time, he seems to have room for growth as an emcee, as he seems to lack a defining style which will set him apart. Regardless, he is placed ahead of his contemporaries by leaps and bounds due to his uncanny mastery of the fundamentals of the pen and the mic. In addition to his profound control of basic lyrical elements, SOS possesses a unique emotion within each of his verses that is all too often missing among the vast majority of today's emcees. Where many others often seem lackluster and uninspired, SOS exhibits a unique and powerful passion that is effervescent in all of his verses, as he exemplifies perfectly on his remarkably eloquent solo track, "Rain." With such profound inspiration fueling his performance, it will be interesting to observe SOS's evolution as a lyricist on his future projects.
Although he is primarily regarded as a producer, Kno's lyrical performance on "Southernunderground" is not to be overlooked. On many tracks, he takes a backseat role, opting to allow his beats to showcase Deacon and SOS's lyrical stylings, as well as phenomenal appearances by Tonedeff, Supastition, Cashmere the Pro, and Masta Ace. However, Kno's vocal presence fails to be overshadowed, as he contributes his own distinctive mix of verses, transitioning gracefully between playful and perceptive. With such a dazzling combination of beats and rhymes, Kno proves himself to be a veritable hip hop Renaissance man.
Specific tracks do not emerge as being especially noteworthy on "Southernunderground." Instead, the album's arrangement flows effortlessly to comprise an extraordinarily complete piece of music. All too many musicians have ventured to create responses to September 11, and undeniably, most come off forced or cliché; on the remix of "Appreciation," which features Cashmere the Pro, along with Deacon and SOS, the three take a simple yet touching perspective, which is followed strikingly by "Dying Nation," further a response to America's current state of affairs. The beauty of "Southernunderground" lies greatly in its lyrics, which are poignant and insightful, yet are not so overly complex that they require a great deal of analysis before one is able to garner meaning from them.
The lyrics, of course, are supported by ambrosial instrumentals; "Doin' Alright" and "Nasty Filthy" are exemplary displays of Kno's incredible prowess as a producer. Beat enthusiasts will also get an extra treat from the gorgeous arrangements on two interludes produced by Kno, as well as "War," the album's outro, a four minute conclusion of stunningly crafted instrumentals. Deacon and SOS compliment Kno's efforts beyond satisfaction, creating an incredibly distinct and soulful flavor not too dissimilar from - dare I say - the likes of Pharcyde, Reflection Eternal, or, yes, even Tribe.
In a time where every album seems to be lacking some vital element keeping it short of amazing, "Southernunderground," by far one of the best releases of 2003, leaves little to be desired.