(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Burlington-based duo UnKommon aim to represent a simpler, halcyon era of hip hop. The stated vision of their debut album, the boldly titled Real Hip Hop, is “bringing hip hop back to when it was fresh and original.” While an admirable — and lofty — intention, the proclamation itself is a contradiction. And though UnKommon display real hip-hop skill, the album too often stumbles under the weight of its own conceit.
The record opens on “Step Right Up.” Mimicking the showy petitioning of a carnival barker, MCs Kin and BP — the latter is also the duo’s DJ — introduce themselves with the promise of the aforementioned freshness and titular uncommon ability. The problem is that the two seem so taken with their own presumed originality, they rhyme about little else.
To wit, the sonic vanity mirror that is “When the Mics in My Hand.” Care to guess what happens when said mic is in either MC’s possession? If you chose something along the lines of “I bring the truest shit,” “Spittin’ lines dope enough it’ll make my mouth numb,” or any other braggadocio about their skills, congratulations. You’ve obviously listened to hip hop at some point in the last 25 years.
UnKommon’s reliance upon repeatedly telling the listener how good they are is doubly frustrating given, well, how good they are. No production credits are given, but from start to finish there are inventive beats and samples that traverse an undulating landscape of various hip-hop styles. Both MCs boast impressive flow, and either is capable of holding down the spotlight or stepping back to complement the other. Indeed, the album’s best moments are those in which the duo employs a dovetailing attack, setting up one another in something like a two-man weave.
Kin and BP are childhood friends, which likely accounts for their synergy on tracks such as the menacing “Who That Team Is” and the playfully light “Dizzy,” among others. And they’re nimble enough to make room for guest rappers, including Breez on “Tune In,” and the Aztext’s Learic on “Without Music” and the closing title track, “Real Hip Hop.”
But “real” hip hop is predicated not simply on how you say something, but what you’re saying. Though obviously talented, UnKommon have little to offer lyrically, at least on this album, that either harkens back to hip hop’s supposed golden age or advances the music toward a new paradigm.
Real Hip Hop by UnKommom is available at unkommon.bandcamp.com.