Filthy America…It’s Beautiful is the third studio album by Yonkers, New York rap group, The Lox, released Friday, December 16. It comes sixteen years after sophomore effort, 2000’s We Are The Streets; and eighteen years after platinum debut, 1998’s Money, Power & Respect.
The trio, made up of Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch, signed to Bad Boy Records in 1995 after their CEO, Sean Puff Daddy Combs, was passed their demo by an admirer of theirs, a fellow Yonkers resident who happened to be a certain Mary J. Blige.
They actually started as The Bomb Squad, perhaps a nod to the Public Enemy production team, eventually changing their name to The Warlocks. Puffy, however, insisted that this be shortened to The Lox. This is said to stand for Living Off eXperience.
They gained sizeable exposure with their apt tribute to late rapper, The Notorious B.I.G, “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa”. Maybe an even wider audience was reached with Jennifer Lopez cameo, “Jenny From The Block”. Jadakiss and Styles P appearing in the latter.
Between now and Money, Power & Respect they signed to Ruff Ryders Entertainment in 1999, and released this year’s effort on their own label, D-Block Records, through Jay Z’s very own music empire, Roc Nation.
Opening track, “Omen”, starts like a swirling church choir, interspersed with sirens indicating nuclear meltdown. The verses are suitably grave, the last slowed and low before the backdrop fades out the track.
Don’t ask the trio “Stupid Questions”. This is a skit with press and photographers asking the group about various beefs and have they been quashed. Stupid questions, indeed.
They fill you in on “What Else You Need To Know”. It’s quite a hardcore track with lightly prodding piano and stabbing drum. Ringing bass really gives it weight, too. “Just a young kid thinkin’ that life ain’t fair” a pertinent line by Jada reflecting upon his journey to current success.
There’s issues of “The Family” which tinkles spaced out, but with hard, industrial drum. Though the drum keeps it largely grounded, the backdrop evokes the ethereal. Maybe even flying saucers and outer space. It details family strife which, invariably, includes those loyalist of friends aswell as the discussion of blood thicker than water.
You then come to “The Agreement”, which features Fetty Wap and Dyce Payne. This is like, seemingly, an attempt to update the group’s sound though, thankfully, the autotune appears to be kept to a minimum. It’s kicked back and seems to be reflective and ponderous.
You come to “Move Forward”. This seems like, perhaps, a stab at something more oldschool. Clanging piano and hi-hat drum gives it a moody feel, skyscrapers, inner city streets and neighbourhoods. Little surprise, of course, that the beat’s courtesy of DJ Premier.
“Savior”, features Dyce Payne. It has a backdrop some might recognise as that originally of Isaac Hayes (1969’s “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic”). Like the previous track, therefore, it’s suitably oldschool. It’s moody, soulful and has its heart in the streets.
The pleading of “Don’t You Cry” goes back to that intimidating vibe, modern but not totally pandering to current trends. “Pistols in the air, that’s gun inflation” a Jada line demanding don’t you cry, or else. The whizzing backdrop fades the track out.
They detail the “Hard Life”, which features Mobb Deep. This one’s bass heavy and driving, only a whisker from funky. Pounding drum really propels the whole thing, the Jada hook of “Life’s difficult, death’s easy/L O X, n*gga; M O B B” detailing, indeed, the hard life. The synth heavy production, the weight on the shoulders of those struggling and striving, fades out the track.
Title track, “Filthy America”, shimmers in melody, light and airy, but heavy with harsh, industrial drum. The track appears to see the trial of the trio, the three defending themselves vociferously on the stand. Jadakiss rails against his prosecutors with:
“Your honour, I already paid my dues to society/Allegedly I sold drugs, huge variety/Had to feed the ones I love, that’s a priority/No matter the verdict, they’ll forever be a part of me”. All three are dragged out of court, suitably not pretending to be some kind of superhero collective.
“Bag Allegiance” is another, and last, skit. A proclamation never to compromise.
You “Secure The Bag” in the climax, featuring Gucci Mane and Infa-Red. Like the Fetty Wap and Dyce Payne collaboration, it’s a nod to more current trends.
To be fair, it’s more dipping toes in the water than total immersion, less likely to hack off their core fanbase who’ve been around far longer than the sound executed in the song. Rattling and clapping drum is adjoined to intimidating synth lines, maybe best at home as a moody number for the dancefloor.
If you subtract the two skits on this effort, five tracks out of ten’s quite a good and healthy return, especially in what often seems like a throwaway era in rap music. These five are “What Else You Need To Know”, “Move Forward”, “Savior”, “Hard Life” and “Filthy America”. The first of this selection tells a tale with the line “Just a young kid thinkin’ that life ain’t fair”. Autobiographical.
Then “Move Forward”, with its DJ Premier backdrop, reminds you the trio aren’t going to totally pander to the more newschool aspects of today’s rap industry. That moody feel, evocative of skyscrapers, inner city streets and neighbourhoods really transports you; maybe reminding you of a time when looking for classic hip-hop wasn’t such a trying task.
You could say similar for “Savior”. That Isaac Hayes sample of “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” is a classic that never gets old, adapted by countless classic rap artists, whether Ice Cube (1990’s “I Gotta Say What Up!!!”) or DJ Quik (1991’s “Born And Raised In Compton”). No doubt there are countless other excellent examples.
The hook of “Life’s difficult, death’s easy/L O X, n*gga; M O B B” in “Hard Life” is both satisfying and makes sure you know there are only but heavyweights on the track. Its driving production also seems to strive to prove you don’t need to be funky and West Coast to have propelling and striking music, the foundation upon which they rhyme.
The title track of “Filthy America” is worthy of selection purely upon the testimony of Jadakiss as he argues his case: “Your honour, I already paid my dues to society/Allegedly I sold drugs, huge variety/Had to feed the ones I love, that’s a priority/No matter the verdict, they’ll forever be a part of me”. It’s like a sequel to certain defendants pleading their case in N.W.A’s “F*ck Tha Police”.
The Lox, after a sixteen year gap between now and their previous album, and therefore being out of the industry, have come back like they were never away. They seem to expertly weigh the compromise between current sounds and that of their late Nineties debut. The Lox’s Filthy America…It’s Beautiful can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson