Killer or Filler?
The hits keep on comin’ in ye olde Fort, starting with an EP by a rap trio that’s been around the block a few times. We’ve also got the final installment in a trilogy devoted to Street Fighter (!) and a short, concise, juicy slab of pop-punk by some young upstarts. Get listenin’, y’all. –– Anthony Mariani
Fort Nox’s Riders of the Storm
Hip-hop fans old enough to remember the commercial rap explosion of the 1980s and ’90s have seen the genre grow into a parody of itself. At some point around the turn of the century, rap became immature, its purveyors eschewing many of its core tenets (social justice, relationships, government/corporate power, and good ol’ fashioned partying) in favor of vapid subject matter (“bitches,” money, murder, looking tough).
The empty bombast and braggadocio of the new school make the latest release from the Fort Worth hip-hop trio Fort Nox all the more refreshing and welcome. On their seven-track EP, Riders of the Storm, emcees Complete, Dez 2-2, and Solid set themselves apart by getting back to basics: meaningful lyrics rooted in personal experience. There’s still some boasting and toasting, but it’s all backed up by three decades of polish –– Complete, Dez 2-2, and Solid have been together off and on since high school in the late 1980s.
This is the kind of album that you put on and then sit down, strap on headphones, and take notes. Picking up where the trio’s last full-length, 2012’s L.O.T.O. (Last of the Originals), left off, Riders is a clinic in complex flow. The rappers vary their rhyme schemes at a dizzying pace and rarely fall back on clichés. The hooks don’t stand out as much as the poetry in the verses. It’s as though some of the choruses are there merely as a courtesy to the listener; something the song has to get through before the MCs can get back to business.
Producers Ernie G. Bash Copeland III and Ben “Shag” Garside lay down a mellow, sophisticated soundscape, with occasional bursts of energy. Tracks such as “What I Feel” and “Again” are reminiscent of the West Coast’s early synth-and-loop-heavy hip-hop, while others (“Meadowland”) have a more uptempo R&B vibe.
Subject matter throughout the EP ranges from calling out bad rappers to relationships with women, God, and family. “What I Feel,” the album’s second track but first full song, is a tender, honest look at love. “Lord I,” a solo rap by Solid, is an introspective opus on using faith and family to get through hard times: “I got a churchgoing mother, we clear about that? / It was her sacrifice that got me where I’m at / Her love, her blood, her sweat, her tears, her hugs, her shoves, and being who she is / Gave me my approach when I got my own kids.”
The album’s opening track, “Intro Riders of the Storm,” is an open call to poser rappers who haven’t earned their stripes: “If you feel it, then reveal it with a typical hand up / Thinking you’re great enough for line to line, then man up / Or man down, fall victim to another wrong move / If you’re looking to win, opposing the Nox is the way to lose.”
Riders of the Storm probably won’t ever experience Top 40 success. But there’s no reason that it –– along with Fort Nox’s entire oeuvre –– couldn’t propel Complete, Dez 2-2, and Solid to underground-legend status, a distinction that they wholeheartedly deserve. –– Eric Griffey
The Buzzkills’ Shoot Your Radio
With songs like “I Hate Suburbia,” “Model Citizen,” and “Jesus Told Me To,” it’s not at all surprising that The Buzzkills sound like they’ve subsisted for years on a diet of mid-’90s West Coast pop-punk, like termites tunneling their way through layers of records from Fat Wreck Chords and Asian Man Records. On Shoot Your Radio, raspy vocals, melodic bass, and plenty of whoas commingle over the usual three or four chords. This sometimes leads to songs that resemble cast-offs from a landmark album like Milo Goes to College and that other times fall into forgettableness. Still, these guys’ chops are pretty tight, and when they go for short and ugly (the aforementioned “I Hate Suburbia” and “Jesus Told Me To,” with its wild tempo, improvisational bassline, and Van Halen-y two-hand tapping), their punk sounds fresh. –– Steve Steward
Man Factory’s Street Fight!!! Round Three
Even if you have no idea what a tiger uppercut is (let alone a Blanka ball), Man Factory’s trilogy devoted to the ’90s videogame Street Fighter II, in which the Arlington pop-rock band fleshes out the backstories of the 12 characters via clever indie-rock gooey with synths, is amusing enough to merit a listen. But if you’re old enough to have ridden a Huffy to a Tony’s Pizza to press quarter after quarter into the game’s change slot to beat M. Bison, the details in these songs are hilarious and touching. “Pilot Sonata,” for example, explains how the pilot flying the plane that shuttles the fighters across the globe got his license, at Chun Li’s father’s behest. Dad asked the pilot to keep an eye out for Chun Li, which is easy for the guy, because he’s completely head over heels for her.
You might not be in love with or even nostalgic for the best game of a bygone era, but the music here offers much to get excited about — it’s mid-tempo pop with a heavy dose of keyboards and melodies that shift from sugary to plaintive. Even if the idea behind songs on Round Three is dorky, their stories still have a lot of heart.
If you want to “see the ending,” Man Factory will perform Rounds One through Three in their entirety on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the OhLook Performing Arts Center in Grapevine. –– S.S.