I’ll be real with you. With the exceptions of Outkast, Goodie Mob and Scarface, I’m not really a fan of Southern hip-hop. Mike Jones? Come on. The dude that says his name a million times on a record? Lil’ Jon? Yeah, he’s cool… as a producer. He should never pick up the mike. I’m sure there’s a lot of underground Southern hip-hop that I’m missing, but the music that I hear, at least in the mainstream, bores me. This is why I’m so glad I caught wind of CunninLynguists’ new album, A Piece of Strange. After building a steady fan-base with the albums Will Rap for Food and Southernunderground, Kno and Deacon the Villain release their third album, A Piece of Strange, a mesmerizing record entirely devoid of fillers.
What I love about this album is that you can’t categorize it. For a duo that originates in the South, this album sounds nothing like the stereotypical Southern hip-hop album. Deacon the Villain spends more time touching on spirituality, inner-city struggles, and battle raps than rhyming about Cadillacs and gold fronts, and Kno’s production is so subtly and beautifully crafted that it gives me goose bumps. After “Where Will You Be,” a short intro complete with wistful guitar licks and deep crooning, the album gets off to a rousing start with “Since When,” where Deacon and emcee Natti (who shows up on seven out of sixteen tracks) go tit-for-tat in expert battle rhymes:
Deacon: We flava the music, chop this screw that/ take you through church in a verse til you view fact /holy ghost, from the lowly coast, spit humility /facin critics cold fronts, blockin our humidity.
Natti dazzles especially, eschewing materialism by saying he’ll knock someone’s jaw “if a broke nigga spit about spending it all,” while spitting “the gems that you splurge to put around your neck, so save that to pay back all your loans and debts.”
Wow. That’s all I can say. You need to rewind the track to hear how nice these emcees are. And Kno’s production is top-notch, with insistent drums and bass that make you feel as if you’ve just stepped onto a battlefield. And you know what’s funny? “Since When” is not even the best track. On “Nothing to Give,” Kno’s supply of thumping piano keys and looping vocals allow Natti and Deacon to shine light on inner-city struggles, the story that MTV won’t show because it’s too “busy picking out Jessica’s shoes.” Definitely one of my favorite tracks on the albums. “America Loves Gangsters” bangs, with Deacon and Natti rhyming about our culture’s obsession with violence.
While most of the songs are powerful, some songs stick out from the rest. “Hourglass” stands as one of the album’s strongest cuts, as the flutes create an eerie atmosphere for Deacon, who asks for “fate to send caress and a face that I can feel/ with weight from heavy breasts, an embrace that make me chill.” This track is just oozing with poetry. I can’t say enough about this track.
Cee-Lo, Tonedeff and Immortal Technique bless “Caved In,” “The Gates,” and “Never Know Why” respectively. While all the guests spit stellar verses, they don’t outshine Deacon or Natti. This is a good thing, as today more emcees rely on guest appearances to save their albums from mediocrity. After spending so much time behind the boards, Kno finally joins Deacon and Natti on “Brain Cell,” (which samples Inspectah Deck’s vocals from Wu-Tang’s hit, “C.R.E.A.M.”) where they all spit chilling tales of troubled childhoods.
I cannot find one good reason why you shouldn’t buy this album. Dope production? Check. Lyricism? Double-check. What more do you want? As you approach “The Light,” you will want to press rewind and relive the entire journey again. This is crunk music for the thinking audience. A Piece of Strange, indeed.