(Self-released, digital download)
It’s official. The void in the “alternative hip-hop” genre left by the breakup of Jurassic 5 has been filled. Burlington’s relative newcomers the Lynguistic Civilians may have already wearied of the comparison, but there’s no getting around it. Five emcees. Clever choruses. Funk-filled, horn-driven samples. Even the opening track on the group’s latest five-song EP, A Hard Act to Follow — the curtain-raising “Welcome Everybody” — follows the script of J5’s own intro track from their 1997 eponymous EP. One: Lead off with group-sung chorus that mentions band name. Two: Repeat chorus, ad infinitum.
But these are no fall-short wannabes. A Hard Act to Follow is not a poor man’s Power in Numbers. And the Civilians most certainly do not deserve to be blithely labeled with broad strokes. They are a rising force in the local hip-hop scene, a synergized sextet that has skipped past the early steps on the game board and landed squarely on “Arrived.”
In A Hard Act, the Civilians succinctly summarize their style. DJ BP leans heavily on funk and soul, sampling wah guitar and blaring brass like it was going the way of ice in Greenland. The strings and high-hat lifts on “Crazy Fools” provide a disco backdrop on which MCs T-Noonz, Monty Burns (who also produced the album), LC (the group’s sole female), Walshie Steeze and Mike “Philly” Fulton do a bit of band bio writing with lines such as “weed, sex, peace and love / but we don’t fuck around when push comes to shove” and “I would love to rap and cash in a check / but I would rather have my city really feel me and just give my respect.”
There’s no grand theme of higher consciousness, but absent, too, are the grandiose lifestyle claims impossible to back up. Rather, the Civilians occupy that less-populated circle of hip-hop where the lyrics are kept light and the music is meant to move you. Literally. This is party music. Dance-floor fodder. Stop leaning against the bar and come join the fun.
“Paint It Red” borrows an Ozomatli vibe, slowing down the tempo and injecting a little Latin love by way of peppy percussion over a minor progression as the five take turns distilling the delights of getting one’s drink on. “Give It to Ya” takes us a few hours later into the night, when the tipsy pair up and “go all night long.” It ain’t Barry White, but it’ll do.
The undisputed hit of the EP is “Go Green,” the group’s homage to the much-maligned Mary Jane. Over a funk riff of honking horns the Civilians leave no question as to their stance on the subject, declaring in a most infectious chorus: “Go green, go green / I ain’t never seen a roach cuz I smoke the whole thing.” Anthemic stuff, at least to Vermonters.
In Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power he writes, “Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes.” Deliberate or not, the Lynguistic Civilians appear to be doing just that, though with an album like this they seemed destined — like the dearly departed J5 — to also be a hard act to follow.
Download A Hard Act to Follow at thelynguisticcivilians.bandcamp.com. The band plays the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington this Friday, July 8.