Artist: Father Scott Unlimited
Album: Sweet Potatoes
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
We got the jazz. We got the jazz. To many people, Hiphop that had that jazzy feel (the unfairly labelled “jazz-rap”) died a death when Tribe shacked up with Slum Village for Beats, Rhymes And Life, when Primo and Guru stopped “scheming on the meaning of a jazz thang” and began to lace Gang Starr albums with harder beats, and when Digable Planets became extinct like that. Its true that we’ve had a few cuts with a jazzy influence in the meantime, but to many, Hiphop has become too frenetic / too commercial / too backpacker / too bling bling to really bring back those jazzy loops that Guru, Phife and Q-Tip graced a few years back.
Wading against the tide though, is a vibrant little underground scene with roots worldwide, that still continues to pump out dope shit with a jazzy twist. Funky DL leads the way in the UK and Japan, Frisco underground acts Feenom Circle and Himalayan Project have both received high marks on these very review pages, and now its the the turn of the strangely named Father Scott Unlimited to step into the spotlight.
FSU is not Florida State University related! It is instead, the brainchild of Scott Koozner, a graduate of the University Of Maryland, who recorded several projects with various emcees from Washington DC’s underground Hiphop scene, while at the college. Emulating the way jazz artists collaborate on an album, Koozner enlisted emcees Seez Mics, Napoleon Da Legend, and Jesus to form the FSU collective. With a track record that involves work with Styles Infinite and the previously mentioned Himalayan Project, Scott’s work on the boards is normally pretty dope. Lets see if his pet project can pull it off for a whole album…
The opening cut disappoints a little. ‘The Unlimited’ features the three emcees spitting in the same kind of style that Busta has made famous. You know the deal – fast paced flows over a staccatto beat. All three do a nice job – Napoleon especially rips things up lovely. The problem is the beat – the drum pattern seems built for a more uptempo style of track, and when the emcees begin to flow, this theory seems to be true. However, there’s a chopped piano sample running throughout that screams nothing but “laidback”, and the contrast between the hyper beat, and the mellow piano is a little confusing.
Thankfully, ‘Hometown’ is a thumping return to the dopeness expected. Its little more than a set of shoutouts to the place where they dwell, but its an example of the beauty of Hiphop. A dope beat… emcees flowing for the love… what more could you ask for? The beat itself is very Tribe-ish, featuring a smattering of chimes over a dusty old snare combination.
The title track pops up next, and continues to push things in the right direction. A nice little acoustic guitar hook and some clavichord stabs float nicely over another vintage drum loop, as FSU lament on the current state of music and life. The crew show themselves to be old romantics at heart too, as they speak on the changes in relationships these days…
“Claiming independence, these days relationships depend on
Benzs, diamond pendants, and spending thousands instead of
Proud of yourself? How can I respect?
When the subject of my affections is treated like an object?
Romance is obsolete, its like we stopped believing
Wanting dollars even more than all of Eden
I can’t accept it, I just be thinking that, damn
True love is just a thing of the past.”
Somebody say awwwwwwwww…
The next couple of tracks are extremely laidback. ‘Past Era’ and ‘The Bond’ (and the short instrumental track sandwiched in between) feature floaty sound effects echoing in and out of the mix, and low-tempo drum kicks. The former cut features the 3 emcees trading verses on the silliest little things from back when they were kids, to their time as teenagers and beyond – the nice thing is though, that we’ve ALL been there. Namechecked throughout the track – friends staying for dinner, He-Man figures, cinnamon toast, crushes on girls in school, curfews and being grounded… the list goes on. Glad to see that I wasn’t the only one who had dreams of “Phylicia Rashad giving me fellatio” either. You KNOW Mrs Huxtable had it going on! ‘The Bond’ features Styles Infinite on the mic helpout, on a track which features the emcees speaking on their love for Hiphop music. Again, its a story which many of us have been through ourselves, and its dope to be able to hear some skilled rappers articulate exactly how many of us feel. Here, FSU and Styles Infinite speak for us, and they do a damn good job.
I knew things were going too well. ‘Water I Tread’ is a similar composition to ‘The Unlimited’ opener, and I have similar feelings for it. This style of Hiphop ain’t really my thing – it might grab a lot of other people, but for me… I think I’ll pass. Take those start/stop beats somewhere else please. Unfortunately recovery is a little slower than last time too. Why? Well ‘Two Months’ is also a bit of a letdown, uncomfortably sitting on the fence between blues and hiphop, and coming off (to these ears at least) as a folk/country hybrid. Featuring an old bar room blues piano loop at its base, its all a little too polished, and leaves you feeling that the whole track needs to roll around in the dirt a little.
Luckily, FSU pull off an another amazing escape – the final three tracks provide an extremely strong finish to the album by picking up the tempo and bringing things back to incorporate the jazz samples used earlier, to great effect. ‘Autograph’ features an addictive MC Lyte blessed chorus and a nice jazz piano arrangement, while the not-long-enough ‘Time’ is another track that shows a major Tribe Called Quest influence, featuring a swirling guitar lick, and the bilingual Napoleon showing off his French roots by spitting in French. Rounding things off is the superb ‘Over’ which is built around a heavy heavy snare, a superb guitar loop, and a set of horns flying in and out of the mix, as the trio thank you for listeing to their shit and urge you to rewind the album and start over again. Its a unique, and very thoughtful way to wind things up.
Guru said it first – “Its a jazz thing.” These guys have picked up the blueprint that Gang Starr and Tribe laid down, and built something special. Producer Koozner certainly knows how to hook up a nice jazz sample, and often his supplied tracks provide a comfortable base for the emcees to flow over, resulting in something dope for the ear. A few times things go a little haywire, but its often because the group have strayed a little from the gameplan, and haven’t played to their strengths. Overall though, it’s definitely in your interests to pick this up. Another strong underground release.