When Strict Flow went the way of Three Rivers back in '03, the group's prodigy Ron Noodles suddenly found himself an orphan, forced immediately to grow himself from opening act to headliner. Luckily, he's battle-tested and cipher-circulated enough to hold his own, without having to be introduced or validated by anybody.
One of his first lone offerings to the public is The Not So Best Of ... mixtape, which is a complete misnomer. Mixtapes are generally composed of cats' freestyles and throwaways. If these songs fall under either of those categories then we should get scared now -- this is his "not so best"?
Anyone who remembers Justin Strong's lyrical backyard brawls and city talent shows knows Noodles is an idiot with the lyrics -- an idiot savant. He gets silly with it at times, like "I pull a rabbit outta hat / then pull the hat out the rabbit / my abba cadabra / lyrics is simply dramatic." At other times, he's straight nasty: "maestro / the beat feeds my ego for survival / before I pull the plug on this bitch like Terry Schiavo."
Probably a li'l too often, though, he comes across as bitter, in songs like "Under Appreciated," one of his greatest and most passionate efforts. It's understandable -- he's languished without due major representation for too long.
The production on many of these tracks, like "Greatest Show on Earth," -- a Rhymesayers white label -- is super crisp. Noodles also gets assistance from talented producers like Diezel, who supplies a sorta Eastern-goth bump. The beats jacked for this compo: Fiddy's "Outta Control," Jay-Z's "Song Cry," Jeezy's "Go Crazy" and even Bow Wow's "FreshasamIiz" are all done justice. For real, somebody please sign this dude before he goes postal and just starts shittin' on the whole city -- he is a Buffalo Bills fan after all.
Black Sun comes out of the same lyrics-are-king mold, opening his Shut Up & Listen Volume 3 with a montage of sound clips about what a real MC is. One clip explains the MC as "arrogant ... so arrogant you a asshole," followed by a voice humbly stating, "I don't feel I'm arrogant at all." (How arrogant!). Is there room for a modest MC, or an MC from the hood who isn't rapping about its brasher elements in a market like Pittsburgh? Slum Village kinda took that approach coming out of Detroit, with results still pending.
But, yeah, Black Sun -- he's an arrogant cat, and he's earned that right. He displays remarkable confidence on a number of different tempos and style flips. In "The Party Starter," he wrestles down the ill-billy twang of Shawnna's "Shake Dat Shit" beat, in what sounds like a one-take. You gotta be a li'l conceited to take on any of Biggie's beats, and he uses at least four: "Warning," "Get Money," "One More Chance (remix)" and "The World Is Filled." The difficult waltz-skip flow and beat on "Hard Work Pays Off" is impressive, while "The Time Has Come," featuring Charon Don and 2Morrow from Liberation, is classic material.
The recording quality is less than perfect, but only adds to the raw, straight-out-the-basement feel. A lotta MCs need to go back to the basement and back to the essence. Shut Up reminds us that placing lyrical substance over polished production is still an honorable thing.
The "barely known but almost famous" bridge-spotter Mario Dones puts together a splendid package with The Accidents Happen mixtape. A Pitt student and part of the well-traveled Sole Vibes unit, Dones joins the 'Burgh courtesy of Cleveland, Charlotte, N.C. and Memphis and you can hear how each locale influences his flow.
But his approach to songs transcends regional styles, almost reminiscent of Masta Ace back in the day or Little Brother today. The beats have the right blend of samples, percussion and instrumentation, while the lyrics are savvy without being overaggressive (as many rookie MCs trying to make a name for themselves can be). In his own words: "Y'all are dealing with a true songwriter / vocally inclined deal lyricist for hire / ... preach to the congregation, turn around and thank the choir."