Sunday, May 13, 2007
S.A. Smash - Illy
S.A. Smash - "Illy"
Def Jux was on fire in 2002. Coming off of the release of The Cold Vein, the label put out one stunner after another. Fantastic Damage, I Phantom, Deadringer, and the Labor Days EP, all sounded so fresh and so vital. It was a great time to be rediscovering hip-hop and...
What's that? Oh... yeah, I really wasn't listening to a lot of hip-hop before that. No, I didn't care for much of it, but I honestly never gave it very much consideration, and it wasn't like I was one of those people who'd tell others "I like all music, everything except country and rap, I mean." I really wasn't. No, I didn't own a copy of The Chronic until last year. I wasn't an Outkast fan until I heard "B.O.B." I didn't give in to genius of Missy Elliott until four albums in. That much I'll own up to. I won't apologize for not listening to Master P or Puff Daddy, though. Just because I turned my back on that crap and waited out for something better that actually interested me doesn't make me an indier-than-thou snob. It doesn't excuse me from not listening to Wu-Tang Clan, but I've done my best to make up for that since.
Anyway, Def Jux were on a roll, one that seemed like it would never end, but the backlash was inevitable, and what better way to kick it off than with Smashy Trashy, the debut from Cleveland's S.A. Smash. This was not "conscious" hip-hop like Mr. Lif, nor did it feature the kind of introspective lyrics (later deemed "emo" by lazy bloggers worldwide) that Aesop Rock was best known for. The dark visions of Cannibal Ox and El-P gave way to more traditional hip-hop braggadocio, just the kind of content that Definitive Jux was "supposed" to stand against, or so we all thought. Confused critics largely trashed Smashy Trashy for daring to be a party album on a label that was supposedly "above" such ideals. Ironically, most of these critics and writers would later pull a 180 and appoint Young Jeezy and Ying Yang Twins to priveleged status, while regarding indie rap as pretty much the worst thing ever.
S.A. Smash delivered just what they promised, even if it rubbed me and countless other listeners the wrong way. I know I heard the entire album and, from the opening skit, hated most of it. Not very much of it turned out to be very memorable, save for "Illy." Produced by El-P, it was easily the best track on the entire album. Camu Tao and Metro might not have been the best lyricists in the game, but they saved all of their best lines for this track, ably staying on top of what's possibly the best bassline I've ever heard in a hip-hop track. I know that statement veers close to dangerous hyperbole, but I stand by it. In hindsight, this could have and should have been a some kind of a crossover hit, but instead it became the first Def Jux flop, Exhibit A for anyone trying to convict the label of failing to live up to the narrow standards they'd supposedly set for themselves.
Hopefully new albums from El-P and Aesop Rock (Can Ox, where are you!?) will help restore Def Jux to the save level of respect they earned back before the Internet went insane. Unlikely, I know.