The face of underground hip-hop would be vastly different were it not for Company Flow. Their full-length debut, Funcrusher Plus, offered a completely unique aesthetic of rapping and production, and was almost instantly heralded as a watershed album. Today, El-P remains hot from the blistering, intensely personal Fantastic Damage, an album that sold remarkably well for an independent release, cementing his Def Jux label as an icon in the underground scene. Mr. Len has also enjoyed success with a solo album and his work in Roosevelt Franklin. But where is Bigg Jus (Lune TNS), the member who seemed to want out of the group before El and Len wanted to call it quits, whose rhymes were often overlooked in favor of El’s?
His 2001 Plantation Rhymes EP was almost universally panned by the underground hip-hop press, who generally favors music that tries to appear creative and unique to music that is legitimately creative and unique. The EP was challenging, at times, befuddling, but ultimately incredibly rewarding, with a completely new sound that nobody else but Jus could possibly create. His record label, Subverse, has since folded despite at one point having had one of the hottest lineups in hip-hop. Fortunately for the few Bigg Jus fans out there, he had an extremely good showing on the NMS side project, and its success was enough to force people who passed the Plantation Rhymes EP over to give it a second chance.
Jus’ first solo full-length, Black Mamba Serums, has been available outside of the US for over a year, but is only now seeing the light of day on this side of the Atlantic. And fortunately, those who have waited will definitely be satisfied with its trimmed-down domestic release. The album radiates with the same brash energy that made Plantation Rhymes awesome, and its sound is less harsh and digital than the NMS album. Though four of the tracks here share names with tracks from the EP, only two of them are straight rehashes.
But regardless of the newness of the songs, the music on this disc is pretty great. Overall, the disc lacks the type of mind-blowing material that was the bulk of Plantation Rhymes, but its length allows for a greater variety of styles to be flipped, and Jus does a great job. His flow has a mysterious sense of rhythm that won’t appeal to everybody, but is worth following just to catch up to his wild metaphorical lyrics. And the beats are always interesting. “Kingspitter” is just disgusting, as close to a car track as Bigg Jus could get, with sick lyrics that “turn the poison into antivenom.” Another highlight is the original “Dedication To Peo,” which is the heartbreaking but at the same time empowering story of Jus’ childhood graffiti inspirations. Jus pulls no punches throughout the record, and though it might be a turnoff to some listeners, it works if you are able to open your mind to it.
Black Mamba Serums v 2.0 is a cohesive, well-crafted album that is definitely up there as one of the finest albums of the year. It is uncompromising and it might very well refresh peoples’ faith in the experimental side of hip-hop. But it is more than just new, unusual aesthetics that make Black Mamba Serums dope. Bigg Jus utilized the tried and true approach of being one hundred percent honest and reaching deep within yourself to create music that other people will find meaningful. If you’re as sick of fake gimmickry in the 2004 hip-hop scene as he is, this album might just be for you.
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