w/ Lexicon, 4-Zone, DJ Cheapshot, Evil One
Paradox Theater, Thurs Oct 25, $12.
Like most of the best hiphop bands operating today, Styles of Beyond comes from Los Angeles. But unlike the moody Nonce, or the dazzling Lootpack, or the otherworldly Quasimoto, Styles of Beyond actually sounds like L.A. Or at least the L.A. of our imagination. The Lootpack, for example, sounds like first-rate hiphop. The group's theme is simply "skills," and there isn't a place or city represented in the Lootpack's music. There's only an action: the production of excellent hiphop. Styles of Beyond doesn't have the skills of the Lootpack; instead, they create a music that duplicates the popular image and industry of its city.
Styles of Beyond, a three-person crew featuring the Rakim-like rapper, Takbir, doesn't directly mention L.A. in its songs. The group doesn't announce to the world exactly where it is "straight outta," or revisit and represent the tough 'hoods where the rhymes were cultivated by "the strength of street knowledge," as NWA once put it. Styles of Beyond references L.A. by reproducing, in a concentrated sonic form, what the city is known for: movies.
From the spectacular intro to the somber space-lab-like outro, what one finds on Styles of Beyond's debut 1998 CD, 2000 Fold, is a series of sonically compressed blockbuster movies. The $100 million budget, the thousands of extras running away from something big, the helicopters whirling in the panicked sky, the well-funded but top-secret government agency, the beautiful women who work for this agency, and the handsome man who heads it: This is the stuff of Styles of Beyond.
The titles of the band's songs are the titles of blockbusters we have seen or think we have seen, or are bound to see in the near future. One is called "Dangerous Minds," which is also the title of a blockbuster film starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Another song, "Survival Tactics," sounds like the title of a film that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good robot soldier. "Spies Like Us," the best track on 2000 Fold, while being the title of a bad movie, is actually far more like John Frankenheimer's spy thriller Ronin. "Hollograms" would be the title for a sci-fi film starring the beautiful android Jude Law, if it were spelled correctly. "Killer Instinct" is possibly the title for part two of Schwarzenegger's "Survival Tactics," in which the robot soldier returns as the bad guy instead of the good guy.
These songs are not duplications but distillations of the blockbuster movies. A song like "Spies Like Us," for example, isn't a saturated aural reflection of the movie Ronin, but an expression of its essence. Ronin is 112 minutes of gun and car action interrupted by moments of somber dialogue, a romantic kiss, ambush planning, gun cleaning, coffee drinking, and so on. "Spies Like Us" is three minutes of pure action, with no intervals or breaks. It is Ronin in its purest form or, better yet, it is the soul of Ronin. And as a collection of mini-movies, the CD 2000 Fold ultimately refers to L.A., the city that produces these impossible films.
This is one of the important functions of hiphop music: It strips down a city's recognized mode of production and shapes a sonic soul out of it. For example, no one could make a song about the marvels of the Wonderbra except MC Solaar (Paradisiaque, 1997) because, one, he is a rapper, and, two, he comes from Paris, the city of high fashion. When he says "je représente le Wonderbra," he is saying, "I represent Paris." Similarly, when Styles of Beyond's Takbir says he is carrying a briefcase that's "packed with explosives" ("Spies Like Us"), he is saying "Los Angeles."
This brings me to a slight digression. If, as I have suggested, one of hiphop's important functions is to compress a city's dominant economic mode into a pure code of soul that can be circulated on cassettes, LPs, and CDs, then why hasn't Seattle ever had a hiphop band whose music extracted and distributed the essence of the city's economic life? Seattle rappers have often mentioned the rain and the area code (206), but no one has really made a beat that translates into Microsoft. Where are the hiphop songs that rap about electric letters, web pages, wetware, Ethernet, virulent computer viruses, compressed files, downloads and uploads, data rooms, info gateways--in a word, Seattle. This is how Seattle hiphop has truly failed us. But Styles of Beyond has not failed its city. The group's CD captured and coded the star-studded megalopolis.