w/Sean Malik, DJ King Otto
Sit & Spin, 441-9484, Sun Dec 17, 3 pm.
AT EVERY SILENT Lambs Project concert I've been to, they reminded the audience that "this is serious music." It's not "innocent" ass-shaking rap, or thugged-out "reality" rap, and it isn't watery "elevated-consciousness" rap, either. Granted, such who-represents-what political trappings are easy to fall into, especially in a city whose mayor blames rap music for the Pioneer Square shootings, but such polarizing artistic reactions are wearing thin. On one end there is rap about guns and ass that, whether good or bad, will always be tagged for corrupting our youth. But at the other end is the equally limited "elevated-consciousness" type of rap that is too aware of itself in attempting to represent all that is supposedly good. I admit I used to be a sucker for the latter kind, rap that rattled off some ditty for "one love," or against racism--ditties that ultimately reduce righteousness to mere crowd-pleasing sound bites. But it's like a "hiphop hippie-ism," where the tendency is to compromise artistry for a canned, progressive rhetoric about things like "revolution" and "peace" without making any strong commitment toward truly discussing either.
What the Silent Lambs Project have figured out is not to make reactionary rap that provides answers, but to maintain rap as a challenge. As a result, they write complex, refreshing songs. On "House of Respect," the chorus goes, "Oh shit/what you could have thought/it's the monster that gods built/fiend for the mic/sincere over mic space/welcome to the house of respect." This song is like many songs in rap about the rites of an MC, but the psychological space it creates is not so simple; those four lines play on bizarre angles of how an MC conceives of him or herself. The MC is something between a fiend and a divinely created monster, words that describe a repulsive individual with some kind of gilded lighting, and one who, in this "sincere" form, is also welcomed into the house of respect.
The tracks, mostly produced by King Otto (who is also their onstage DJ), have a heavy, somber tone. The production draws on strings and minor piano chords for this effect, along with other unique tricks like sleighbells and what sounds like a violin tuning up. The general mood is not all that pleasant, and to boot, the rhyme cadences of both Jace and Blak are jagged, with starts and stops that can feel more like spoken word. When I asked him, Blak explained, "We're not writing for no hooks. We're not writing for a certain amount of bars--just until the emotion is done, and then the verse is done."
However impressive it may be, this "serious music" pretense can generate serious backlash. Last spring I saw the Silent Lamb Project open for a Jeru concert at Graceland, and after every one of their songs the crowd just stood there in silence. It was terrible--so awkward that those who weren't simply frozen walked out. People were not there to hear Jace spit darts at them: "Ninety-nine percent only say what's written/99 percent have no original conviction." They weren't listening for songs like Blak's "Rap Psychiatrist," where he reverses the roles between the performer and the crowd and delivers a psychoanalysis of the behavior of rap's consumer-audience. It is a song in which the rap psychiatrist "beats your head to death with your own fist."
"Fuckas" might be my favorite song by the Silent Lambs Project, and they were smart to put a live recording of it on the album Soul Liquor, which was released on November 7. Like many of the other songs, its verses are opaque verbal montages, but this time it grabs you by the lapels of your jacket like the best punk rock does (or used to do). The chorus goes: "FUCKAS!... FUCKAS!... FUCKAS!... FUCKAS!" with pauses for the crowd to repeat the expletive. It is a radical and direct force of music that seems clear enough, but Jace and Blak are entirely unclear who the "FUCKAS" are.
"That's what the song was written for, for that reason," Jace glowingly told me. "It's a little self-conscious, some take-a-look-in-the-mirror type shit, and you know, you might be one of those sorry muthafuckas."