In the slow-jam niche where Mellow Gold meets Mezzanine, Border Crossing make steamy downtempo dance music for the international club community. The West London trio’s debut, Ominous, is a throw back to mid-’90s trip hop, a period the band romanticize on “Original Heads.” On it, guest rapper Rockwell rhymes, “Let’s take it back to ’93…the era of the true emcee” before waxing nostalgic about two turntables and a microphone.
Like Beck and Massive Attack, Border Crossing are master genre-synthesizers, fusing hip-hop, reggae, jazz, R&B, and electronica without getting fogged down in the aggregation. The swanky horn lines of “Flight Path” chop up the synthetic beehive hiss and ballooning strings of “Taxi” in a manner that isn’t new, but will still keep four on the floor.
While Border Crossing’s elastic rhythms are intoxicating, their lyrics hardly are. There are kitschy descriptions of ghetto fabulousness, cinematic laments over syringe-laden neighborhoods, and incredulously boastful similes: Featured rapper Usmaan spits, “I’m like Godzilla crushing racism” (“No Go Area”) and Rockwell follows with, “When I’m on the mic, it’s similar to Marcus Garvey” (“Original Heads”). They still want to fit into hip-hop’s thugged-out world, though, so “The Return” combines self-aggrandizing declarations of street cred (“Gotta hustle like a motherfucker”) with dancehall-anthem folderol (“Let me see if you can rock to this / Let me see if you can drop to this”).
Border Crossing may be more interested in the bump and grind than in a conscious approach to the daily grind. But by fusing genres as seamlessly as they do, perhaps the trio are creating a sonic vision of solidarity, and in doing so, pushing more buttons than just those for tinkering electronic instruments. Crossing any borders? Probably not. Getting their passports checked? Definitely.