- SPIN Rating:8 of 10
Label: Slow Motion Soundz
In retrospect, those embattled late '90s underground cats had it pretty good, what with Rupert Murdoch money fueling indie hip-hop staple Rawkus Records by way of Mr. Fox News' son James Murdoch, and hip-hop becoming a proper corporate entity big enough to support "alt"-leaning "conscious" lifestyle rap alongside the money-flaunting mainstream fare. Contrast that underground hip-hop moment with rap's Internet underground resurgence of the past five years and you'll see that shit is bleak for an independent type in 2014. Das Racist have broken up. Big K.R.I.T. and other regular guy types like Curren$y signed deals that got them nowhere near the radio and squashed their buzz. Quasi-outsiders like Odd Future, Lil B, and Main Attrakionz, who all refused to indulge the major labels, found their closed-circuit cloud rap steez usurped by some Harlem dullard with connections named A$AP Rocky.
The message is loud and clear: Play the industry game or we'll find some phony-baloney type to occupy your lane and do exactly what we want. Hell, even King Kendrick Lamar, who ostensibly arrived unscathed, still has to do songs for that dopey new Spiderman movie and Grammy it up with Imagine Dragons. Yikes!
Which brings us to G-Side, the easy-to-root-for, Huntsville, Alabama, space-rap duo of ST 2 Lettaz and Young Clova, who broke up in 2012, not long after their fifth album, iSLAND, because, well, grinding is tiring. Clova, the quietly seething half of the group, told SPIN as much in a 2011 feature: "This might be the last album," he said. "Either this album is gonna make us or it ain't. Struggling, trying to pay your rent — it gets old."
All of this choice-less choice frustration fuels G-Side's "comeback" album, Gz II Godz. During their split, ST knocked out a decent if pedestrian solo album, The G... Growth and Development, and Clova contrived club-pandering singles that went nowhere. Presumably, they also did a whole lot of deep thinking about how to keep going as a group. And so the down South D.I.Y. duo return as street-to-Internet educated veterans on the other, less attractive side of blog buzz, yet Gz II Godz feels more bemused than haunted by the realization that very few are getting paid off of this shit. They also seem to be back selling drugs, or at least talking about it again as the only option, which gives the entire set a defeated tone since it's coming from two guys who, in the past, argued on-record for going straight, or at least having an exit plan (it also sounds they're having a lot of good sex these days, if "Gold" and "In Luv With Jhene Aiko" are to be taken seriously, which, hey, good for them).
The Death Waltz Recordings-ready atmospherics and operatic trap on "Statue" bump into broken electronic loops and wailing thrash guitar on "I Do," and from there it's a series of jazzy, loose, uplifting tracks with the occasional ethereal banger in there to remind you that these guys can snarl and bite when they feel like it. Otherwise, they continue to push an aggressively ordinary rap worldview, while their producers The Block Beattaz craft trippy trap music unafraid to wander into increasingly strange sonic territory (mutant G-funk on "G Side's Back"; Brian Eno blobs of synth on "Bass Headz"; mind-fucking, all-over-the-place vocal mixing on "Elbow Smash").
ST remains a scrappy charmer armed with a hyper-sincere streak and a sense of when to pull his lyrical skillz out of his back pocket. His reminisce on "Higher," about an old lady in his neighborhood who told him to always walk with his head held high, is bold in its embrace of sentimentality. Clova reprises his role of the guy with his back against the wall, hissing out threats and tempering them with humble appreciation of the little things success has brought them, splitting his time between ranging Auto-Tune and a lispy double-time.
The record's final quarter suggests where the group might be moving next: toward druggy disco-rap that prescribes ruthless striving over off-the-top-rope elbow drops of bass. Strange, gorgeous stuff. On "Muffins II," ST, his voice quivering like Jay-Z back when Jay knew how to laser-focus on a beat, intones these bittersweet lines: "They'd rather see me die than to ever see me empowered/ While I'm here give me my flowers/ If I don't get devoured by the judicial system by the end of this year, the world is ours."
That's quintessential G-Side: tragically optimistic trappers trying to make good when they've been handed a fairly garbage hand. Then again, what else are they supposed to do at this point?