Freestyle Fellowship is the Los Angeles collective consisting of Aceyalone, Mikah Nine, Mtulazaji. PeAce (who I’ll simply refer to as Peace from here on out) and Self Jupiter. They originally came on the scene in 1991 with their debut album To Whom It May Concern, released on the independent label Beats & Rhymes. I’ve never heard the album, but it made enough of an impression on the powers that be at 4th & Broadway, that they signed them to a deal, where they would release their second album, and the subject of today’s review, Innercity Griots.
The majority of the production on Innercity Griots would be handled by the production team, The Earthquake Brothers (which is The Jamm Messenger D, Mathmattiks and The Mighty O-Roc). The album didn’t sell well and would be the only album released by the foursome on the 4th & Broadway imprint. While all four would go on to release solo projects after Innercity Griots (with Aceyalone easily becoming the most successful, making a name for himself on the underground scene, with his lengthy solo catalog), it would be eight years before they would release another group project.
I’ve never listened to Innercity Griots in its entirety, but bought it a few years ago on the strength of the lead single that I liked back in the day. So, without further adieu, lets give her listen.
And if all else fails, at least the cover artwork is dope.
Blood – Innercity Griots opens with Peace making it clear that the title of this song has nothing to do with gangs, but everything to do with “physical blood that you bleed”. After that’s established, he spits a quick acapella spoken word piece, that I could take or leave.
Bullies Of The Block – The Bambawar produced backdrop is built around a Bootsy Collins funk loop and sounds like something EPMD would have hooked up back in the day, which is a compliment. In my opinion, the fellas from Freestyle Fellowship (tongue twister muchers!) aren’t great lyrically, but decent, and their colorful styles bring tasty flavors to the song.
Everything’s Everything – Again, if you’re looking for exceptional lyrics you’ve come to the wrong show. But the foursome do have great chemistry, which shines through on this song, and parts of The Earthquake Brothers’ instrumental shines as well.
Shammy’s – Freestyle Fellowship dedicates this one to the bust downs, hoes, tramps, or what they affectionately refer to them as, Shammy’s (not sure why they spelled it with an apostrophe “s”, but whatever). Decent enough song, I guess.
Heat Mizer – Quick interlude that has Aceyalone spitting over an underwhelming up-tempo Earthquake Brothers instrumental.
Six Tray – While some west coast rappers sang praises to the ’64 Impala, Peace talks about the adventures that take place in his six tray. I’m not really a fan of Peace’s rhyme style (or his content) on this song, but I absolutely love this Earthquake Brothers’ backdrop.
Danger – Not really a fan of this one.
Inner City Boundaries – This is the only song I was familiar with when I bought Innercity Griots a few years back. Daddy-O (from Stetsasonic) stops by to drop off a smooth instrumental, and contributes a verse for the album’s first single. The catchy sing-a-long hook and Daddy-O’s brilliant instrumental make this song irresistible.
Bomb Zombies – Over a dark Earthquake Brothers instrumental, Self Jupiter spits a quick verse about a woman who is murdered in front of her young child (I think?). Yeah, I know, it sounds like heavy shit, but Self Jupiter does a poor job of articulating his words, and the overall execution is terrible. I wasn’t feeling this one at all.
Cornbread -This is an Aceyalone solo joint, and he rocks the shit out of this simple old school instrumental, as he pairs random words with food referencing (I can’t stop saying “chick-o-sticks, big fat chicks”). I don’t think I’ve ever heard utter nonsense sound so entertaining.
Way Cool – Couldn’t feel this one either.
Hot Potato – The four man crew come together and pass the mic around like the title suggest, making references to potatoes the whole way through. I love the jazzy feel of the instrumental (credited to someone by the name of Edman), which sounds even better when midnight marauding.
Mary – Aceyalone, Mikah Nine and Self Jupiter dedicate this ode to marijuana. The Earthquake Brothers’ instrumental is fire, and even though I don’t partake in herbal meditation, the fellas do a pretty good job of getting their point across, and make it sound enjoyable.
Park Bench People – Mikah Nine uses his solo joint to sing/rap about the homeless people he encounters that make the park bench their bed. The live jazz instrumentation behind Mikah is dope. Another one to add to my midnight marauding mix.
Heavyweights – Freestyle Fellowship invites their buddies, collectively known as Heavyweights (Cockney “O” Dire, Archie, Volume “pistol grip pump on my lap at all times” 10, Spoon and Ganja K) to join them on this cipher joint. This is a huge improvement from the posse cuts I’ve listened to lately (i.e. Capital Tax’s “Treetop Connection” and Mad Kap’s “Dopest Verse”), but still not great.
Tolerate – Freestyle Fellowship comes off like a step team on this interlude, as they name off a list of things they will not tolerate, in unison.
Respect Due – The fellas use this one to show respect to the old, the current, and the new schools of hip-hop. I love the intent, but intent doesn’t guarantee great execution, which is this song’s downfall.
Pure Thought – The album closes with a mid tempo instrumental with a dope rumbling bass line, as the Freestyle Fellowship brethren sound reminiscent of the Cold Crush Brothers (I invite you young bucks that don’t know who Cold Crush are to Google them), reciting most of their lyrics in unison. Great way to end Innercity Griots.
Historically within hip-hop groups, there is usually one emcee who outshines the rest of the team (see Kool Moe D in The Treacherous Three, Ice Cube in N.W.A., Andre 3K in Outkast, Lauryn Hill in the Fugees, Cee-lo Green in Goodie Mob…I could go on forever, folks). That is not the case with Freestyle Fellowship (though one could make an argument that Aceyalone is the star emcee), as all four emcees match each others skill level throughout Innercity Griots. But this is both a gift and a curse on Innercity Griots: it’s awesome to hear four different emcees match each others energy, and while I can’t call any of the four wack emcees, no one in the crew is great behind the mic either, so most of their content falls in the middle of the road. When coupled with the hit and miss production, only about half of Innercity Griots is worth your time.