Hip-hop has typically been a music genre that values style over substance. Though Public Enemy dominates the music history books with their politically-charged music, they're really something of an anomaly. Most hip-hop revolves around talking mad s--- about how tight you are and doing so with style. This goes back to battling and further still to hip-hop's roots in the dozens (e.g. "Yo mama" jokes) and the comic stylings of Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite.
BB King Kong, a joint album from Anti Citizens' Bazerkowitz and San Diego OG Black Mikey, is a case of style over substance (if you think that's a diss, you're missing the point). BB King Kong has one singular purpose: to assert the two rappers' superiority by talking mad shit about haters and lesser rappers. But instead of being a repetitive chore of a listen, it's a surprisingly diverse album. It turns out Bazerk and Mikey can strike down their foes in a variety of different styles.
At its core, this is an Anti Citizens album. Although the other half of Anti Citizens, rapper-producer Mr. Ridley, had been living in Los Angeles during the recording of this album, his presence is still felt throughout. That's because most of the instrumentals are constructed from an archive of beats he had produced but not yet released. As such, BB King Kong revolves around hardcore boom-bap twisted by bleakness and futurism.
Despite the grim landscape, Bazerkowitz and Black Mikey are able to take the core sound in interesting and fun directions. Or at least, the artists sound like they're having fun. Black Mikey is known as a street rapper but hanging out with the oft-abstract Bazerkowitz and Mikey's own cousin, Orko The Sycotik Alien (who features prominently on this album), motivates him to explore different styles. On "King Kong Step," Mikey does an Anti Citizens impersonation by rapping in double-time to what's essentially dubstep music. He also taps into sci-fi-informed paranoia on "3rd Eye of the Storm." On the flip side, he affects a reggae patois on "Burn Dem Down," then goes one further with a sing-songy, nonchalant flow on the strange reggae-Eastern hybrid, "BB King Kong". If you could imagine Mikey laughing at you while smoking weed with his legs crossed on a magic carpet floating slightly above your head, that's about what this song sounds like.
For his part, Bazerkowitz serves as an effective foil to Mikey, though he's less adept at smack-talking than his partner. His greater value is as a director. BB King Kong is a family affair with frequent guests who all seem to meet at Bazerkowitz. You could imagine him directing traffic amid all the personalities, bringing more out of Mikey, and molding Ridley's instrumentals into the songs he wants. His verses even have this odd way of centering a song, if that makes sense.
This isn't a perfect album, though the critiques may sound nitpicky. None of the songs are entirely bad, but parts of them are. Guest rappers Angel of Death and Kount Villa sound unsure of themselves and they stick out badly in their brief cameos. Mikey sounds revitalized on much of the album ("Van Hellsin" is another highlight) but the epic banger that is "The West" seems wasted on Mikey's unmemorable performance. Bazerkowitz finds comfort in abstraction ("Open My Eyes") but he's hit-and-miss when it comes to straightforward punchlines (the "Tapout" line on "Sacrificial Slaughter" is pretty terrible).
Then there's the issue of the aforementioned Orko, who appears on six songs. It's not that he's bad--actually, it's the opposite. The problem is that he's the highlight on all six songs. At what point does a dope guest spot turn into a scene-stealing guest spot that murders you on your own s---? I'm gonna say that Orko completely dominates at least two songs, though they are technically billed as bonus songs ("Underground Jugganautz", "2012 Armageddon"). Orko's alien presence exposes the other rappers as mere humans.
But this is one of those good problems for listeners. BB King Kong is a dope, unrelenting album of bangers showcasing a host of emcees trying to chop heads off. Thanks to Ridley's beats, Mikey's versatility, and Bazerk's direction, it mostly works.
The BB King Kong album is available at Access Hip Hop.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.