Album: The Underground Tapes
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
Canadian hip hop. Front all you want, but in 5 years we’ll be taking over.
Back in the late 80’s, it was Maestro Fresh Wes who started things rolling with his debut LP, “Symphony In Effect”, which featured the legendary single, ‘Let Your Backbone Slide’, which became an international hit. All was quiet for a LONG time after that though. Maestro fell off, and Canada went back to being a hinterland for hip hop…
Until a couple of crews scattered about Canada started making noise. Out in the west, there were the Rascalz, and the Swollen Members holding it down. Representing out east was a vibrant Montreal scene, and an even more vibrant Toronto scene, which was being built up by crews such as The Circle, Monolith, and a bunch of other artists.
One of these artists is Saukrates.
Underground heads have known about Sox for a while now. His debut single ‘Skillz Ta Thrill’ was bumped majorly when it dropped, as was one of his first tracks ‘Father Time’, which coincidentally can be found on the latest “Best of Fat Beats” compilation.
So heads were fiending. The problem? Label politics as usual. Over the course of a couple of years, Sox bounced from label to label, never getting his debut release off the ground.
“The Underground Tapes” is that release. Well sort of. Containing new material, plus some older tracks, it’s an album, but it’s not necessarily a proper debut, if you know what I mean.
After a short intro where Sox lays it down why it’s been so long coming for his release, we head into the album proper with the track ‘Can’t Touch Us’. Sounding sparse, with a simple drum arrangement, and a simple horn loop, the song ends up being a contrast to the rest of the album as you’ll find out. I’m thinking that this was thrown on basically as an “intro” type track, and really, it does a good job, especially since Sox just RIPS it verbally.
“Don’t believe for a second, a man running ain’t
A man gunning for you, true, indeed
Love is worth more that gold, but fairs equally sold
To counterparts and enemies, ya feel me?
Non-believers try another theory
But when you fail it’s apparent that you didn’t hear me, HA
You feel me? Take a second, fuck a first impression
We all realize longevity’s a dangerous weapon
Wait a minute, are we forgetting we are MCs
Putting two to your cranium, often tempts me”
The following track ‘Money Or Love’ served as the single for the LP, and features more traditional Sox production, using what sounds like a jangly guitar over a banging bassline, and a pretty standard drum beat. It’s very soulful, and drips with a funky style, especially when the occasional organ is thrown in. Interestingly, the song uses a sung chorus, which amazingly DOESN’T suck.
“Dollar, dollar bill y’all
Are these the hardest shoes to fill y’all
Take it in, as far as money’s concerned, I’ma break it in
Your golden glove too stiff player? Break it in
Never heard of surplus, the way we touch
Was like two, two gets this busy this much
Severed all my ties and burnt all my bridges
With the art of being broke, leaving y’all folks suspicious
Like who’s that? Cool cat move back
Y’all focus on one’s, I’ll let twos stack”
The next track, ‘Bag Da Biscuit’ is another departure in sound. It sounds grimy, dirty, and just dark. A frantic drum pattern over a strong bassline, and an intermittent horn stab makes up the beat, and the end effect is pretty cool, albeit not that clean sounding. Sox flips the lyrics in a pretty basic battle style that doesn’t impress me too much, and overall, this track is a touch below average.
‘Professional’ is up next, and if you think you’ve heard the beat before, then you’d be right. Think DITC and ‘Day One’ and you’d have the ID down pat. Just a gorgeous melody, that is somehow overwhelmed by the dopeness of the rhymes that Sox spits over it. Like he says before the track, “he’s on some superhero shit” for this track, and he doesn’t disappoint, dropping a 5 minutes plus tale of special agent Saukrates bringing down a mafia head. Dopeness personified.
“It was a mansion on the outskirts of Chicago, I clout
Hood went by the name of Mikey Budafuco didn’t like me
Ms Jones was around back I took the front gates
Two punks on guard with uzis strapped to their waist
Strolled towards a door, but pizano was like
“Yo, who the fuck are you?” then I pulled out my knife
Slow, without a whipser or hint of hesitation
Made one quick slash and committed decapitation
Left the knife in the neck of the man on the left
And hopped over the fence, took a short breath”
Noted mixtape inclusion ‘Keep It Movin’ featuring Mr. X to the Z, Xzibit follows, and like you’d expect, the combination is magic, as the two styles of the MC’s mesh perfectly. Over a bouncy beat interspersed with some cool electronic effects and various scratches, X and Sox drop some nice battle rhymes, showing off the LA and T Dot styles.
“Yo, revolutionary, evolutionary
Bulldozer, leave y’all with troops to bury
Clean sweep if ya smell fear in these mean streets
It’s instinct, life’s a bitch and she’s far from cheap
I got love for my dogs hustling for defeats
Put it down for this paper, increase the real
Come wit it, run wit it, fuck wit it
Big Sauk to shock your mind and your spirits
Taste these lyrics while I spit truth on tape
Whether two inch, a DAT, or D-A-T-A
I impregnate wax, so get mine regardless
Of anybody’s set, I’m starving the artist
Who’s next to me? The X to Z
Together we bomb MCs with text debris
Leaving y’all hard pressed to breath
Other words, niggas show love and chicks spit the ecstasy
How real is that?”
Another dream combo follows on the remix of ‘Innovations’, which features Pharoah Monche. 2 Rude provides a nice, if a little repetitive beat which employs a 5 note piano loop and little else. The treat as you’d expect is Pharoah and Sox, and although Sox tries hard, he’s a little outclassed here. A dope cut though.
“Fuck it, I pop glock and block glock shots
In top spots from top-notch cops to bust from a crotch
Positioning, my conditioning allows me
To withstand the rain like two sets of All Weather Michelins”
‘Fineline’ the next track, is a little underwhelming in my opinion. The beat tries with it’s jutting violins, but something is missing. Sox does a good enough job on the lyrical tip, but it’s nothing special. Luckily, clocking in at just over 2 minutes, it’s not too much of a nuisance.
A new version of the semi-classic ‘Play Dis’ featuring Common is up next, and while not up to the original, it is still dope beyond belief. A moment of reflection please, as I think of how good Common could be if he used more beats like this. Soulful, danceable, and pop sounding all at once, this beat is nice. As you’d expect the combination of MC’s leads to some amazing lines as well.
“Shout out to honeys working them hourglass hips
Stay soprano, reading Cerrano
Dramatic episodes, yo Common
Let me play with niggas brains like clay kits
When I rock stage hits
Skip the rumors and lies
So you’re under the stairs
When I drop my hip-hop, you’ll be some Maytag repairmen
And flip flop the fake, who thought the scored
And half-assed niggas sending you back to drawing boards
To deliver the real shit, at least we’ll spit on you mic
I’m versatile like a plate of real grits”
The next track ‘Body Language’ is a personal favorite of mine on the album. Not a classic by any means, but the chemistry between Sox and guest MC Choclair is just so good that you can’t help but smile. A lazy guitar loop comprises the melody, and Sox and Chox both drops some booty rhymes here, that while a little vulgar, are still nice.
‘Check For Me’, the next track, starts off with a nice little soulful piano loop, which then turns into a flute driven track. Very peaceful sounding. Unlike most of the other tracks, which focus on battling, Sox drops a little story here, talking about a girl and how she didn’t choose him over another guy, and that she made the wrong choice. A chill type of track.
The mighty Heltah Skeltah is up next with ‘Ultimate MC’, and DAMN. I’ve said it before in my “Duck Down Presents” review, but this song is bouncy as hell, and tight as fuck. The only thing missing? More Heltah Skeltah. They get 2 short verses, and then Sox does his thing, which is dope anyways. Just a great track. GET THIS.
Hip hop legends O.C. and Masta Ace show up for the next track ‘Rollin’, continuing the streak of dope guests. The track is very bass heavy, and uses some nice keys. The track subject is basically street rhymes, which is cool enough, because Masta Ace in particular drops an incredible verse. Check for the Black Moon sample during Sox’s verse as well.
“Yo, yo, I makes green backs of mean tracks,
It seems that life aint nuttin ‘but phat cars
And dreams that stack two stories high
I wouldnt wanna die, po broke and lonely
No joke I’m only a hop jump and skip from 30
Gotta get my hands dirty
If I wanna see cash thats gon last
I hit you wit a blast, straight from the heart
Yo where’s the math, gotta go for broke without a cast
Ain’t shit changed but nickels and dimes to G notes
We floats in flush rides and crush prides and jack fakers
Crack makers never left the, neighbourhood
Cash rules everything except me
That’s what cream mean, it don’t rule the mind
On Valentines day nigga, you still couldn’t find
The heart to try to step to, fuck wit
Mess wit, your desperate, stop bullshittin’ nigga and lets get
All this dough like Pillsbury and I still bury
Wack rappers, in 96 kid I feel very confident its my year too
And my tongue will tear you
Keep rollin’ in dough and son I hear you”
So ends the American version of the LP. Keep in mind that there is a Canadian version out that includes 6 bonus tracks. It’s worth it if you can find it. Also keep in mind that this won’t be the last you’ll hear from Sox. He’s been signed by Redman to Red’s own imprint, and in the new year, you can expect a new full length.
Damn, I’m fiending.
The final say? While not a proper debut, this is still essential hip hop, Canadian or not. Sox has a flair on production that few can match, and a lyrical style reminiscent of a young Jeru. All he needs to do is temper the barrage of battle tracks with more story type tracks like “Professional” on his next releases. If he keeps it up, it’ll be no time before he becomes a household name.