As a huge fan of Labtekwon I come into this review with more expectations than the average listener. When Lab releases an album I expect an event, something memorable, even a project that will set the bar for all the others. With this in mind I sat down to (prepare for a mouthful) “Hardcore: Labtekwon and the Righteous Indignation (Rootzilla vs Masta Akbar)”, and can happily say I wasn’t disappointed. If you’re a hip-hop fan who loves lyricism and raw gritty beats then this LP is for you. Every track brings it’s own conceptual vision to the table with an artistic quality seldom seen in the mainstream. Artists like Lab are what makes the underground interesting.
This album starts with a spoken word introduction from Labtekwon himself; a mellow, chilled out instrumental creates a Jazzy vibe from which Lab states:
“The purpose of this album is to achieve two objectives: the first objective is to inform the listener regarding the ideologies and philosophies, that have shaped the lives of mankind from zero A.D. to 2020 A.D. The second objective of this album: is to cause rappers to shut the fuck up”.
Two noble sentiments I’m sure you’ll agree. Lab isn’t kidding either, this album showcases two entirely different sides to his personality; counter-balancing braggadocio style hip-hop with knowledge raps between songs.
“Knowledge Of Self” has that distinct Labtekwon sound made famous by his previous work on Ankh Ba Records. His vocals are manipulated in a way which causes a slight echo on top of a gritty drum loop. This is hip-hop stripped down to it’s most fundamental level. Lab’s flow is concise and direct, with a focus on his lyrical ability placed above all other aspects of his music. One line in particular highlights the quick-fire wit laced within the track: “There’s more to life than busting a nut, even though life does take busting a nut”. Humour plays a big part on many songs with Lab’s verses often containing double-meanings and requiring further listening to fully decipher.
It’s this layering of his lyrics which makes his work replayable; filled with quotable gems. “King Of Stylez” which has it’s own video (a tribute to graf pioneer “Kase 2”), has Lab in a playful mood rapping faster than Bizzy Bone in his prime. Thematically, it sounds like a challenge for rival emcees to step up to his level; the funky instrumental is the perfect backdrop for Lab to do some showing off. From here the album takes it’s first noticeable departure lyrically with “Assassin Poem”; a track as pornographic as early Kool Keith and just as lyrical. The drums are distorted to sound feint and distant, as if coming from a basement. It feels darker in mood but designed for head-nodding.
B-Boy style drums play a big part on the album, often stripped bare to connect them solely with Lab’s lyrics. Lab’s flow on “Vocabulary Murderer” is akin to a saxophone player letting loose in a smokey Jazz bar. However playing this at a party could result in a mosh pit rather than gentle appreciation. On “21st Century Flow”, Lab raps “I shove an umbrella up your moms ass, then open it, take her for a walk in the rain”. Despite depicting such a grotesque image, you can’t help but laugh. His experience with battling clearly influence his direction on this LP.
“Dope Or Dogfood” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. The piano chords used are broken and unsettling, with Labtekwon rapping aggressively and slightly slower than on other songs. It samples “ESG – UFO” on the chorus, breathing new life into one of hip-hop’s most famous samples.