Album: Alt.rap Presents… Battle Mode
Label: La Scala Entertainment
Rating: 4 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
First off – big ups to Pizon for the hook up here. And before I go on, I wanna warn y’all – this could get ugly. Respect due to everyone for dropping something on here, but as you’ll see further down, some people just don’t got “it”. Keystyling ain’t the same as audio, that’s for sure.
For those that’s don’t know, “Battle Mode” is a CD made up of tracks made by contributors to the alt.rap newsgroup. On first glance, I see a bunch of familiar names, and a bunch of not so familiar names, but that ain’t the point of course, since anyone who’s never been to that newsgroup will be saying – who the fuck is this cat A to the L?
I’m not sure who did production on each track either (nothing in the liners), and while the majority seems to be made of original beats, there are a couple of tracks with known instrumentals from other songs. It’s all good though. A nice touch is the top notch packaging. Looks like an indie release still, but a high quality indie release, and whoever did the graphics did a great job.
Probably the biggest complaint I’ve got with the LP as a whole is the general sound quality. For the most part, it sounds very low budget. I know it’s low budget by the way. The problem is, it’s being sold for 10 bucks American. Dunns, if you’re going to sell it for the price of a normal CD, I’d better be getting clear audio, and no scratchiness.
Bitching over for now. On to the fireworks, and like I said, don’t yell at me, yell at yourselves if you’ve made a wack track. And if you want to diss me, wait for the “RMHH Vol. III” compilation, IF I make it on there.
1) Alt.Rap(Intro) – Phantom Syndicate
I’ve heard this beat somewhere. Don’t know if it’s an instrumental of a commercial track, or if it’s something I’ve heard linked from alt.rap in the past, but it’s a banging track. Violins in the background jutting in and out, and some hard ass drums and bass. Phantom Syndicate seems to be made up of two emcees, but I ain’t sure of their names. One has got a crazy deep voice, the other has a more standard flow. The lyrics are on point, and these guys can flow really well. A really promising opener, and the beat compliments them well.
2) Critical Mass 2001 – Ocho
Ocho sounds a lot like Saukrates. Vocal tone I mean. The beat here is pretty good again, but is ruined by some horrible levels and mixing. It’s too scratchy, and the bass overpowers what should be some great electric guitars in the background. You also get some electronic blips reminiscent of Kardinal’s ‘Bakardi Slang’. Nice, but like I said, ruined a bit by the audio quality. As for Ocho, he starts out great in the first verse, staying on beat and flowing well, and then a wack chorus chimes in, mixed WAY too low. After that though, things start to fall apart, and he can’t keep up with the fast paced beat. Unfortunate, since the story he’s telling is great.
3) The First Bar – Pizon
The infamous track I’d heard so much about, but never actually heard. It was dissed pretty hard by some people from what I remember, but I’ll enter this with an open mind. The beat is a little different here, slow paced, with what sounds like a guitar lick every once in a while. There’s also some nice organ sounds popping up every now and then, and a pretty infectious bass line. The problem is the lyrics unfortunately. Pizon just ain’t got a nice flow here. It’s too fast. That’s not the biggest problem though, since speed rap can work a lot of the times. The major problem is that he combines the rapid fire spitting with a monotone delivery that makes him sound like he’s speed-reading. The last verse get’s a BIT better, but still falters. Overall a disappointing track considering the nice beat that was there.
4) 4321 Freestyle – A to the L
As the title would suggest, this uses the 4321 LL instrumental. Only issue I’ve got is it’s mixed too low again, and when A jumps in, he overpowers it. The lyrics here are on point, and A to the L sounds pretty good, with a faster flow. However, he’s plagued by the monotone issue again. Cmon DAMMIT! Show some enthusiasm! Some nice punchlines here though, and I’m surprised A is from the UK, since he has little to no accent.
“I come off the top of the head like dead hair / Rappers are scared cause I be ending their career / Come from the UK, rock solo with no clique / Styles are sick, got rappers hanging off the dick / To be so dope as me, you can’t cope with me / A lot of MCs will soon be, hopin I be / Off the rap scene cause I’m mean, I’m meaner than the Hulk when he’s green”
5) All About The Rhyme – Timid
Featured in the literature I got as the “ideal” radio track on the LP, I was expecting lots here. I was disappointed. It’s not a bad track by any means, but it ain’t mindblowing either. The beat is pretty simple, with a faster paced drum loop over a non-existant muddy bassline, and some chime sounds accentuating the beat. That’s it really. The chorus is wack once again, and I don’t think that Timid’s got the flow or voice for a track like this. It just doesn’t go well. He does get off some nice lines here, including-
“Leave the driving to us, we know where we’re taking you / There’s always enough space in the hand basket to make room for you too / Who me? Dumb question, even a more stupid expression / On the face of a race that thrives on aggression / 200 year old tot, the worst of the lot Arogantly threw away the ticket for the toll, so it’ll cost all you got / An advanced civilized man, a tax write off humanitarian / Normal contradiction in terms in the age of the techno-barbarian / Raving and ranting, praising and prancin / Not aware of the heat, nor of where they’re dancin”
6) Final Magnus – Phantom Syndicate
The Syndicate is back again, this time with yet another apocalyptic sounding cut. These guys have got some nice production backing them at least. A heavy minor sounding bassline, and some grimy drums, with some spacy sounding noises make up the beat, and it does a great job of setting the mood of the track, which basically is- don’t fuck around with Phantom Syndicate. Great track. These guys are 2 for 2.
7) Battle Mode – DOKool
Sorry to say it, but this track exemplifies a lot of the things that are wrong with the LP in general. The production SEEMS like it could work here, with some great sounding violins, and a hard beat, but it’s absolutely killed by the horrible audio quality here. I honestly can’t listen to this, even with my best equipment. The vocals are mixed in too loud, and even they are scratchy sounding. And sorry to say, but I couldn’t get past the nasal monotone flow of DOKool. A huge thumbs down here.
8) Live On Stage (Interlude)
Just your basic shoutout track here, the premise being that everyone on the LP is performing live. You guys should’ve done this live as an homage to the ODB, and made it sounds like y’all were drunk. Dude doing the announcing drops a short freestyle at the end, and it sounds ill. Too much crap before the actual rhyme though.
9) Unsung Heroes – Timid and Sacrifice
A movie sample to start things off, and a Biggie violin sample that’s been chopped nicely here, if a little uninventively. Everything is really low sounding here, with a rumbling bassline, and sparse drums. I do like how the violins stand out though- this is mixed well. The chorus was a nice try with the scratched vocal samples, but it just doesn’t flow well. Sacrifice and Timid do the track justice, with some nice battle lyrics. I wish I could know who was who, but the second guy sounds great, and has a dope flow and even a good voice. First dude rips his second verse though with some GREAT sounding lines that prove you don’t gotta make everything a 15-syllable word to sound complex.
10) Bloody Basics II – Sinful and Killah
Nice sinister opening here, with the organ or whatever that is. The beat is really minimal, with the aforementioned organ noise, some drum kicks, some spacey noises, and a mournful sounding horn sounding every once in a while. The vocals are mixed to high here again though. Sinful and Killah are the real deal though. Great flows, great voices, and amazing lyrics. This is one of my faves on here. Even the chorus works nicely, with the back and forth shit. Good job.
11) Three The Hard Way – A to the L
Great sample to start, and a good job getting the “A to the L” reference in there. Dope beats here, as the theme is three different verses over three different beats. I’m stupid because I can’t recognize the first beat used though. It’s got some serious funk though, and some great samples are thrown in the middle of A’s verse, reminding me of the antics of Eminem. The vocals are a little high in the mix though, but I can excuse it here, since I’m so amused by the lyrics. A to the L ain’t got the most distinct voice in the world, but he can flow on beat, and he enunciates everything well, making listening to him less a chore than most other emcees out there. The second beat is ‘Dead Wrong’, and A continues the slaughter. The final beat comes in after some dope scratching, and again, I’m stupid and can’t recall what it is, even though it sounds damn familiar. This last portion sounds worst in terms of audio quality though, although again, A comes correct with flow and lyrics.
12) Heavy Barrel – Killa aka Kay Da Don
This is one half of the Phantom Syndicate (learn something new everyday I guess). It ain’t the crazy voiced guy here, it’s the more standard one, but his style is a bit different here than before, as he just sounds more vicious. A great beat again, with some beautiful keys for the loop, and a sparse bass and drum pattern. The chorus is a bit weak, but I can live with it. This crew really reminds me of “horrorcore” acts like the Gravediggaz for some reason.
13) Family Affair – UNIVERsON
Great sample to start, and then things just get horrible. Booty flow here. Kinda like what Pizon did, but a BIT better, as UNIVERsON has quite a bit of emotion behind what he’s saying here. The beat is eerie sounding here, with some atmospheric noises, and a looped bell of some sort mixed with what sounds like water dripping. Good stuff, but unsaveable here. Like El-P on speed
14) Street Survival – Wattz and Raven
Crying baby sample to start with a weird echo effect. Some peaceful sounding keys come in slowly with a laidback drum beat, and soon after the vocals come in, but this time, they’re mixed too low. Good job on accentuating lines with sound effects though(a match striking when he talks about lighting a flame). First guy has a VERY sleepy flow, and is monotone. The chorus is good, but again, mixed too low, and puts me to sleep with it’s monotone delivery. The production changes up subtly everywhere though, and that’s entertaining me to no end however, so kudos to whoever did this. Great stuff. Second guy sounds a bit like the first, so I’m not sure if it IS the first. Some weird effect has been added to his voice as well, which doesn’t sound good, and prohibits me from hearing what he’s saying. In the end, thumbs up for the effort and the beat I guess. A little too experimental sounding for my taste though.
15) Untouchable – DOKool
Some nice dreamy space sounds to intro this, and AGAIN the freaking vocals are mixed in too high. DO comes way better with this track though, and makes me forget his first track (well not totally). I don’t know if this is a compliment or a diss, but DOKool sounds like he belongs in Anticon, especially when he starts referencing Ender’s Game, and all that sci-fi geek shit :). Even the chorus works. Great job.
16) Alt.Wack (Interlude)
Sure to raise a ruckus on the newsgroup I suppose. Basically a diss skit towards the big wigs on the newsgroup who didn’t record for the LP. Ssjba, is ripped the hardest I guess, but really, what was the point of this? A bitch move in my opinion, and soured me on the LP in general. Y’all wanna have a community? It doesn’t happen with shit like this. Yo B and Vadik also take it hard here, although I guess we know why Yo B didn’t record, since he probably couldn’t find audio to steal. Oh yeah, it’s the Phantom Syndicate doing all this shit talking.
17) Swamp Meet – Phantom Syndicate
Not doing anything to deter my Gravediggaz call on them, the Syndicate drops another horror movie sounding cut, with a nice bassline that reminds me of Friday the 13th. Dude with the deep voice sounds forced on this though, unlike the other tracks. Normal sounding dude sounds much better here. He kinda reminds me of Cormega with the flow he has. And that’s props by the way.
18) The Finale -A to the L, Phantom Syndicate, Scratch & Sniff, Deja
Same beat as the intro, and now I KNOW where I’d heard it before. It was this track, which was released a while back. A to the L comes correct here, and sounds even better than he did on ‘Three the Hard Way’. Levels are perfect too, and there’s a nice cut somewhere in there too. Mixing rears its ugly head again with the verses of the Syndicate though, as it sounds muffled, and just generally horrible. Scratch and Sniff then drops a wack ass verse, that somehow sounds even worse than the Syndicate in terms of quality, with a huge hissing noise, and the worst flow on the entire LP. Sorry man, but I speak the truth to the youth. Some other guy then jumps in (the other member of Scratch and Sniff?), and mixing is close to normal this time, but his flow is off beat, and sounds forced and stilted. Deja finishes things off in a whispery sounding voice. His flow is on point though, and he strings together some nice lines. Some scratches to end, and then we’re done.
Or are we?
19) Bilingual – Mr. Bravo
Never even heard of this guy on the group to be honest. Best sounding cut on the album, in terms of cleanliness of sound. Some horns deep in the background, mixed with a sprinkling of keys, and some sleigh chimes. Good stuff, and mixed perfectly- professional sounding even. Mr. Bravo has a great flow, and a decent voice, and manages to drop verses in both English and spanish. Don’t know what he’s saying half the time, but it sounds incredible. Superb, and amazingly enough, the bonus track is probably the best overall track on the whole LP. Kudos.
So we’re done. Wonder how many hate email’s I’ma get? Even better, wonder how many disses I’ma get in alt.rap now? Even more better, wonder how many bad reviews I’ma get when I drop my probably cut on the RMHH compilation?
Whatever. Bottom line on this – I don’t think it should cost 10 bucks. There’s maybe 5 songs I can listen to consistently. The rest either isn’t up to par songwise, or audio quality wise. A great effort from all, and props to everyone, but if you’re gonna charge scrilla, I’m gonna treat this as a normal release.