SMKA - The 808 Experiment (Vol. 2)

Posted January 18, 2010
Tags: SMKA,

Go meet the Libyans in the parking lot, grab a Mr. Coffee, jump in the Delorean and crank that...

The 808 Experiment (Vol. 2) Album Review

Go meet the Libyans in the parking lot, grab a Mr. Coffee, jump in the Delorean and crank that thing up to 88 miles per hour, because we’re about to go back in time. The year is 1995 and hip-hop’s two central cities, New York and L.A., are engaged in an insanely overblown but still very real battle to become hip-hop’s national capitol. If you had suggested then that Atlanta, a city that aside from a few outliers like Outkast and Goodie Mob had no real significant national presence, would someday rival New York and L.A., if not supplant them, as hip-hop’s foremost epicenter, people would have looked at you like you were Marty McFly playing heavy metal at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. And yes, I’ve been watching a lot of Back to the Future lately.

The point is, as unlikely as it seemed in the ‘90s, the ATL rose in the 2000s from an afterthought to the most commercially and creative successful city in hip-hop. Still, despite the influx of new music most of us outside of the peach state have only a shallow understanding of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene. Enter production team SMKA. Spearheaded by founder 808 Blake, SMKA have dedicated themselves to compiling and producing for the wealth of ATL talent around them onto one mixalbum, and the result is the outstanding The 808 Experiment: Vol. 2, a work that brings together established and relatively unknown artists for a celebration of all things Atlanta (and sometimes beyond). So if you’re one of those haters that think nothing good comes out of the South, you’re either going to have to change your mind real quick, or stop reading now.

While none of Atlanta’s superstars (Luda, T.I., etc.) find a place on The 808 Experiment, the mixalbum is dotted with artists who are household names, in hip-hop households at least, starting with the Nappy Roots and their P.O.N. Here Blake builds the track over a basic piano line, overlaying the melody with snapping snares and subdued strings, building a lush backdrop for the Nappy crew to drop uplifting rhymes that still remain rooted in their native soil. It’s a similar story on Tanya Morgan’s The Make Believer, except here Blake has ditched the strings in a favor of a more booming style, giving the gentlemen of Tanya Morgan plenty of sonic inspiration. For my money the chorus, while conceptually interesting, sucks the energy out of the track, but these execution slips are few and far between on The 808 Experiment. Going further down the “artists that aren’t mainstream but DJBooth regulars will know well” road we encounter Yelawolf and his anti-momma song Deer Mama, up-and-comer Pill’s soulfully personal Aine Given Up, Outasight, Kyle Lucas and their space gospel jam Right Away, and more. A roster like that’s impressive, but once you factor in that each and every one of them delivers…well, that’s a whole other level.

The real joy in listening to The 808 Experiment is in discovering some new artists (new to me anyway), like Proton and his Bollywood-esque F**k the Economy. The title alone’s enough to make the track a new school anthem, but its Proton’s off-center street style that really makes the track a standout. And just so we give the ladies their due, Alexandrea Lushington’s Think You’re in Love is every bit as beautifully creative as her name would suggest (though I would have liked to hear Blake do a little more with the beat), and Brittany Street provides the mixalbum with some much needed R&B-esque lovin on the smooth as silk Let Me Go. Now that doesn’t mean that every track on The 808 Experiment is destined for greatness. I can appreciate a banger as much as the next man, the Grip PlyazJockin recycles every trap muzik cliché in the book . Sorry, I just need you to rhyme “b**ch ass” with something other than “b**ch ass.” On the other side of the coin Tom P’s Spotlight delves so deep into satire that it can’t recover – ultimately coming across as a joke. Still, the joy of hearing truly new music easily outweighs any moments of less-than-ideal talent.

With the enormous roster of artists on The 808 Experiment it’s easy to forget about the man behind the scenes, so let’s close on this note. SMKA and 808 Blake didn’t put Atlanta on the map, but they’re ensuring it will stay there for generations. Welcome to the ATL – if you don’t know, now you know.

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DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted January 18, 2010
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