“Any rapper on a label should resign and quit!”
Jeeeeezus, this track is two decades old and is still more demented and hostile than damn near every rap song that’s come out since! How could I not talk about this one?
Brooklynites El-P, Bigg Jus and DJ Mr. Len fucked up the hip-hop status quo as Company Flow. At the time of their 1997 debut record Funcrusher Plus, hip-hop had become hip-pop, with big bills, shiny suits, sung hooks, and endless excess. The crew sneered at the state of the music, and operating under the mantra of “independent as fuck,” took rap far into unknown territory. The album’s beats, provided by El-P, are stunningly lo-fi and hostile, almost alien-like, devoid of melody, hooks, or anything sounding remotely close to normal. Buried deep into the mix are El and Jus’s raps, which are incisive, complex, and clever, lashing out at big-budget emcees, heralding NYC, and praising the underground. The two emcees sounded like they were rapping through a haze of weed smoke and mustard gas. Right down to the alien-ant looking things on the cover art, Funcrusher Plus revelled at being an album that only the most dedicated hip-hop heads would get into and enjoy.
On release, Funcrusher Plus was a game-changer. While the album didn’t sell in droves (not that the group wanted that anyhow), it was a critical smash, and was wildly influential in expanding the alternative rap movement in the latter half of the 1990s, inspiring countless artists to follow. It would introduce Rawkus Records, Co-Flow’s small and local label, as the premiere spot for cutting edge hip-hop in the late ’90s, a designation which Rawkus would build on with further acts like Black Star and its legendary Soundbombing compilation records. El-P got enough clout from here to start his own label, Def Jux, which for a time in the 2000s was the place for abstract, wildly independent hip-hop. He later became one-half of a dynamic duo which set the music world on fire too. So yeah, this record was pretty damn monumental.
“Legends” is an appropriate title for this El-P solo joint, one of my absolute favorite listens from the album. That beat is phenomenal, sounding ridiculously off-kilter, seizing and lurching forward like it’s about to come off the rails. There’s even a moment where the beat “skips” and seems to desynchronize, no longer matching the drums. Then you’ve got the scratched in Kool Keith vocal samples, including that line, “any rapper on a label should resign and quit,” which sounded ludicrous in ’97 but ended up being prophetic in 2017, where indie artists are flourishing without ’em. El’s performance here is also a gem, delivering endless verbal heatwaves mixed in with threats, conspiracy theories, and inside jokes. This one is fun.