“Hip hop’s not dead, just a couple of people need a smack in the head”. These are the lines you need to learn off by heart the next time somebody confronts you with some hip hop hatred, as opposed to the full on (stay on the train and listen to me – I seriously don’t care if you’ll miss your stop) Nino rant. Modulok and Bare Beats are concise and straight to the point in a way, let’s face it, most MCs can’t even silently wave a mike at.
The intro to “Two Cities” is most definitely my favourite album intro of the summer. Seamless beat boxin’ always vibrates nicely on our ear drums and the MCing to match it is bloody brilliant. It’s a proper introduction, like a firm handshake and a ‘here to help’ name badge. Not only do we meet Modulok and Bare Beats over Wireless’ internal boombox, we meet their minds, their philosophies and their flow in a welcoming atmosphere. It’s ridiculous how few MCs manage to get their intros down, however short they may be, first impressions last.
The very idea of using Gordon Ramsay angry samples on “Taste” looks plain stupid on paper. “You’re a twat, do you know that…” and the bulk of the F Word heavy sample is good in the way that it is completely unexpected. But the only word which really works nicely for me is the final one, “Un-fucking-believable”. I get that they’re trying to fit it in with the whole song title yada yada, nice idea, but that phrase alone would have worked alright. It’s the right tone for the track and it’s a nice bit of word invention. The rest just has a purposeless purpose of confusing and amusing you in a few wasted seconds.
“Stories” is a Venice side street accordion that got chopped up, regurgitated, hip hopified and decorated nicely. Rather than the step by step storytelling we get from Nsa and Plan B, it’s more of a snippetted set of reminiscing. The pessimism surrounding “Happiness” is ironically British, but although it is a good track the vocals and music don’t match making it a trying listen the first few times. “City” and “Grimy” both have a similar attitude and don’t particularly stand out. They’re good tracks, but the energy is flattened into intellect only. “Trouble” could quite easily be on any recent hip hop album I’ve listened to – ‘I don’t look for trouble, trouble finds me’. Again, a well put together track, but hardly ingenious or striking.
“People” is a confidently blunt track. It’s a take it or leave vocal that is entirely on my level. But while it begins with some ear prickling DJ action, the action dies and gets thrown about randomly throughout the track. Can somebody please tell British producers that scratching an American verbal sample a few times in their beats does not make them remotely old school or original. It takes more, try a different beat, get a real drummer into the studio because old school drums are way more funky than those present here. It’s getting to the point where it’s so thickly done that these juvenile attempts at honouring the old school style come across as patronising and track splintering.
Without full quality earphones, the lucid underlying tones and fantastic ivories on every track but the intro are lost and the music can seem fairly simple and boring. Which is a real shame due to the actual eminence the whole album is drenched in. This is especially true of “Assassin”, which kicks off with some truly mint ivories which remain throughout but get completely drowned out by the heavier dramatic two note piano ivories, which sound too much like too many records knocking about at the moment. Kill those two notes at the top of every bar, push those original tones to the front, and this track would be the best on the album. But if you don’t have a subwoofer or studio headphones, you’ll probably get sick of it before you’ve reached half way.
The concept behind Two Cities, and the obvious talent of the MCs and producers are all exceptional. But somehow the lights linking the three are flashing and flickering like filaments that need a whole new circuit. “City” and “Origin” have a deeper purpose which fully utilises the MCs skills. The most fun, most pure, and most true to Modulok and Bare Beats has still got to be the intro. It turns out first impressions can be misleading in their own rights. But for a first project together, they’ve made some clean, focussed tracks that will vary drastically in their effects on different listeners. I would recommend you give it a go, even if you just want to replay the intro.
Release date: 15th September 2008.