In the three years since they formed, local rap group Black Resume have made a reputation for themselves with their energetic shows and fun, thump-heavy music. They seem to have figured out a formula for making good hip-hop: trunk-rattling beats + clever trash-talking + catchy hooks = dopeness. For most of us, that's easier said than done.
But on Friends in High Places, the sophomore follow-up to 2010's San Diego Music Award-nominated Bar-Barian Music, Black Resume make it look pretty easy. Their music is almost exclusively focused on weed, women, money and braggadocio. There's even a song titled "M.A.T.C.H." -- an acronym for "money, ass, t---ies, cash, herb" -- that supposedly describes their lives. If you ever came across a high school teacher trying to tell you rap was poetry, you could probably prove them wrong by giving them some Black Rez music.
That's not to criticize them for lack of depth. The thing is, they are very good at making fun, catchy music that still knocks. "Hey Girl (My House)" bangs with a combination of handclaps, steel drums, bleeding synth lines, and what sounds like intro music for a ghost in an 8-bit video game. The anthemic "The Rez" drives home the group name with an infectious chant, crunchy drums and a scary church organ. "Level 10" bounces with staccato keyboard hits accented by sweeping synths coming down from the mothership.
Really, space seems to be a recurring theme in the production. Rapper Guillotine doubles as producer for the group and he experiments much with space, as if taking the "high places" part of the title literally. "Ain't Talking To Me" uses distant tones to explore empty space, suggesting that Black Resume stand alone in a class of their own. The aforementioned "M.A.T.C.H.," despite not being the greatest of hooks, is driven by a hypnotic loop that would seem to signal the arrival of a UFO before breaking down with a harsh, dubstep-esque synth. The group can just tell a good idea from a bad one and execute it well with the help of Guillotine behind the boards.
At least for the most part. Not all of their ideas are good ones. For example: "Moonwalk," the concept for which is that they each want to moonwalk away from the hot but annoying girl they're talking with. Yeah, it's definitely a stretch and MJ deserves better. "Good Thang" just sounds kinda douchey: one of those songs bars throw on at the end of a night in Pacific Beach that'll have you locking arms with your other bros as you celebrate the "good times." It sounds tailor-made for people whose only stories are about other times they've gotten drunk out of their minds.
As far as rapping goes, the group has gotten better on the whole. Right out of the gate on opener "Disasterous," they each show off their improved double-time flows, which speak to their improved deliveries throughout the album. You soon learn each rapper's distinct personality: Guillotine schools you on hustle, Young T is the ladies' man, Tipper is all energy and LC is cocky like a mug. They complement each other well but LC and Guillotine stand out as favorites. On "Level 10," LC raps:
They stay buzzing everywhere 'cause haters give me promo
Rezzy be the squad, they try to break us up like Yoko Ono
Oh no no, n---- the Rez be the regiment
Competition? Nah, just a bunch of n----s we better than
Not to be outdone, Guillotine breaks down his hustling philosophy on "Stay On My Job":
And it ain't nothing wrong with having you a 9-to-5
'Cuz ain't no way that flipping sacks gone feed you when you 95
So when I say I'm getting cake up, I'm just trying to make up for lost time
The writing is spotty in places and Young T references Disney's The Lion King more than once. But overall, it works enough to result in good songs.
What remains to be seen is if Black Resume can take it to the proverbial "next level." The group seems to already be reaching about as far as they can locally, having built a young, college-oriented scene at UCSD's Porter's Pub. Barring local radio rotation (which is pretty much out of the question), it's hard to see where else they could go but outward. Here's hoping they make some traction and get much deserved shine outside of SD.
Black Resume's Friends In High Places is available for free download on the group's website here.
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.