If Janelle Monae decided to record a Hip-Hop cd and joined forces with Art-Official era De La Soul and added in a sprinkle of MF Doom, the outcome would be MLS (Major League Spittaz) and the album The Legendary Sharpshootaz. The group originally seemed to be following in the footsteps of Wu-Tang with it’s multi-voiced trio utilizing snippets of film and samples that create an eerie backdrop behind Rza inspired production, it seemed natural to draw comparisons to an east coast group, but after listening there is flavor in their use of extensive hooks which have a musicality that only California natives are capable of producing. In short, while the pictures show a grimey edge with battle ready fatigues and artillery, the group is distinctly Cali, northern Cali, Sacramento. Which makes the group more interesting when you consider that Sacto is not considered as a frontrunner in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is personified by Thizz, Hyphy, E-40 and Keek da Sneak, sounds full of drugs, bravado and unique lingo. MLS however has approached a status that I consider closer to what Fashawn, out of Central Cali-Fresno, has captured. MLS at the core are a group of lyricists. Which brings me back to the Janelle Monae meets De La reference.
MLS Has coded the album with references to the future thereby producing an album that actually exists in a different time, while remaining connected to the present. Janelle Monae’s futuristic Neon Valley Streets and Cyborg references seem to have influenced the group, but I would hesitate to actually think that. I think what MLS has done is something that is no longer attempted in Hip-Hop, the concept album. The album’s concept addresses the fact that Hip-Hop is stranded on a bridge somewhere in time calling out for help in a world overrun by manufactured, virus filled, talentless zombies. Think Will Smith in I Am Legend and you get the idea.
In the opening track the emcees: Monotone, Lou Slug and Century (the sole female emcee of the group) backed by DJ Los, hearken back to the 80s Boom Bap sound with the track Four, Three, Two, One and immediately the listener becomes aware that this is not a standard indee cd. In total there are 19 tracks on the CD minus a few skits. Overall the production is solid which is also rare for a lot of indee produced cds.
The title track comes late in the album and is overshadowed by three tracks which standout: Lightworks, Cry, and the LL Cool J influenced Hard. Hard pays homage to LL’s Rock the Bells. The group has obviously done its research and it is refreshing when emcees give shout outs to their history. As a matter of fact in today’s culture emcees pride themselves on not knowing their predecessors. Even Lupe said at one point that he didn’t listen to ATCQ, which stunned me. But in this album there are references to Wild Cowboys, Sadat X. Which is understandable, how can a trio not reference another trio, Brand Nubians, who laid the foundation for this crew? Lightworks was originially backed by the J Dilla instrumental from Donuts on a mixtape by MLS. Since copyright laws are in force, there is actually a better production sound behind this new verion of Lightworks (can I say someone produced a better track than Dilla?) and the idea of the song has shifted to the idea of a person not being interested in waisting time on the small ish. MLS does not aim low, at times they do fall somewhat short, but overall each track is head-nod inducing enough to forgive the missteps in some of the hooks where the hook is louder than the track. As a matter of fact nowhere else on the album does the group work at its peak as they do on the track Cry. On the Fashawn cd there is a track Why which could be the theme song of every person who has struggled through understanding the situations that shape them. Here is where the group has distinguished themselves as purveryors of true Hip-Hop. The haunting narrative is filled with teenage angst and adult worries. As Warrior poets and samarai, MLS serves a master that prevents them from having to commit sepaku, Hip-Hop is their master.
In a culture that actually thinks that rhyming consists of pausing and saying something clever, these emcees tell stories and isn’t that what reall emcees do? Guru once said that it’s the voice that creates the style and then the emcee has to be able to create vivid images. MLS does so with enthusiasm and that is rare. At a time when all artists are trying to find their independent solo voices and don’t want to share the spotlight, at a time when people are shouting and screaming fake frustration, MLS is, in their own words want to, “Restore my faith in humans, don’t beleive in 2012”. Rarely does an independent artist drop a classic Hip-Hop cd that can be bumped from beginning to end, but MLS has made a considerable mark in dropping this one. I only hope that people will actually find it and listen.