Meanest Man Contest 

Merit

New York City has had its fair share of publicity, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco and, probably, Olympia. But can you think of the last time the city of Oakland was featured on the cover of a record? Didn't think so. Meanest Man Contest is representin', so much so that this hip-hop crew named its debut after the East Bay's most famous lake. Now that's civic pride. Yee-hah.

Of course, featured local landmarks aren't reason enough to buy an album, so luckily MMC has given us some solid music to back this shit up. A duo consisting of Quaterbar (beats) and Eriksolo (words), MMC makes thinkin' fellers' hip-hop that's sculpted without being wanky; it's stimulating enough to rub elbows with more ethereal electronica, but ultimately too gritty to get playlisted at your local sushi restaurant.

In addition to his beat-making, Quaterbar was once a guitarist in the dirge-and-drone indie rock troupe Jim Yoshii Pile-Up, which might explain the basket of organic sounds on Merit. Mainly an instrumental record falling somewhere between DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada, the disc distinguishes itself with swatches of acoustic and electric guitars, plenty of organs, and some sick synthesized bass lines. Held together by Quaterbar's crafty breakbeat butchery, Merit balances a variety of moods, from the pensive thrust of the drums-of-death-driven "Carpal Twist" to more psychedelic explorations such as "Odd Predicament."

Vocalist Eriksolo appears on only two tracks here: "Science Diet" and "The Most Intrusive Places." As Quaterbar's beats are so enjoyable, it's difficult to ask for more rapping over them. But Eriksolo's flow is great, calling to mind Del tha Funkee Homosapien's succinctly meandering cadences. Apparently he plays a larger role at their live shows, so keep an eye out.

More of a snappy collection of polished demos than a cohesive epic, Merit is nonetheless a welcome debut from a duo clearly on its way up. It probably won't blow your mind, but it will aptly soundtrack everything from house-cleaning to boot-knocking to just plain chillin' or, for that matter, illin'. If you're prone to rollin' fatties, pick up this record, grab a pair of headphones and a Discman, and fire one up down by Lake Merritt. It's just the right thing to do.

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