Los Angeles’ Swollen Members hone a delivery and lyrical style on their new album, Bad Dreams, which cruises hypnotically through the purple REM doldrums of the mind.
Splicing the nitid visuals and shadowy karma of Kool Keith’s Dr.Octagon with the fiery braggadocios and addictive beats of a slimmed down Wu-tang Clan, “members” Mad Child and Prevail add yet another solid tier to the growing reputation sported by Battleaxe Records.
Upon first listen, the slightly nasal rhymes of Mad Child might catch a listener unfamiliar to independent hip hop off guard.
But all it takes is an attentive breakdown of the lyrics to fall into the bleak, post-911 poetics that he buries all over of the CD like a thousand verbal land mines.
Bad Dreams takes off immediately with a Dilated Peoples’ beat courtesy of Evidence on Full Contact and then snaps into the jumpy boasting of Take it Back, in which Prevail declares “It’s just a slight of hand, like Penn & Teller/ The mighty dollar is taller than the scholar/ Ask your neighborhood martyr about the firestarter.” On this track Swollen Members begin to stress a bold loyalty for their label more commonly seen with major label collectives like Rockafella and the Queensbridge family. Fortunately, they use these candid proclamations to complement their skills and promising future instead of threatening other rappers with cardboard death wishes.
Several tracks discuss how the affects of watching terrorism on television can infiltrate your dreams.
In Camouflage, Prevail’s verses drip with wartime paranoia when he says, “Your currently tuned into NBC/ The only channel you get is from an M16/ I lace my boots and place my troops/ I’m more afraid of mosquitoes than I am of the paratroops.”
Their lyrics certainly don’t present solutions to our current plights, but it is still refreshing to hear two hip hop artists unwind on such topics without any artistic boundaries.
The disc features guest appearances by underground hip hop staples like Planet Asia and Son Doobie as well as tight-knit Battleaxe artists like Buc Fifty and Moka Only, whose soulful croon on Fuel Injected is enough to make you want to give a listen to his own full length album.
Dreams’ most impressive accomplishment lies within its production, where the Alchemist, DJ Babu, and DJ Revolution have unleashed top quality beats and scratches that make for an eerie midnight escape on your headphones.
Swollen Members’ decided on their name while drunk and eating breakfast at a Denny’s. Since then they’ve come an awfully long way and are in the middle of sparking a hip hop movement that could possibly rival the early days of Rawkus. The Battleaxe warriors and their extended family, which includes everyone from Kut Master Kurt to Chad Muska, are swinging hard on the West Coast. Check them out at www.battleaxerecords.com.