Boomkat Product Review:
Essential retrospective of under-sung Los Angeles crew CVE, key members of the hugely influential Good Life Cafe's open mic scene. Properly ahead of its time - flexes between Anti-Pop Consortium or Cannibal Ox-style mind-bending futuristix, Hieroglyphics' West Coast surrealism and pre-grime electro-rap production itchiness. Tipped!
If you haven't come across the Good Life Cafe before, chances are you've heard of its successors: Project Blowed, and more recently Low End Theory. The South Central open mic session was responsible for giving a platform to artists like Jurassic 5, The Pharcyde, Macy Gray, and even will.i.am, and was the subject of a documentary - "This is the Life" - from Ava DuVernay, herself a regular when she performed in rap duo Figures of Speech. That documentary featured one of the scene's most low-key influential crews, Chillin Villain Empire, who somehow until now have never been given the anthology treatment they deserve. The sprawling collective of designers, engineers, rappers and producers were politically motivated and doggedly focused on the future - their name was picked because that's how they knew they were seen by white America, and they refused to sign a major record deal, preferring to handle their own business completely.
After establishing themselves in the 1980s, the group eventually became focused around the core trio of Riddlore, NgaFsh and Tray-Loc, releasing a slew of albums on their own Afterlife Recordz imprint. "We Represent Billions" assembles the best of the band's material from between 1993 and 2003, and highlights just how ahead of their time they were. Proto trap-electro hybrid 'All Over the Globe' starts things off aptly, broadcasting the crew's tongue-twisting lyrical style and stark production style. The track is snipped from their '05-released full-length "Villainism", that features cursed artwork of a demonic George Bush in front of as blood-drenched US flag, and while CVE's music isn't as grim as Three Six Mafia's or Gravediggaz's their motivation is pretty clear.
'Thugs and Clips', also pulled from "Villainism", vibes with Dipset's "Diplomatic Immunity"-era roll of samples and neck-snapping snares, but augments that backdrop with double-speed West Coast rhymes and tongue-in-cheek self-conscious cynicism that flips the style on its head. Slo-mo 1998 burner 'Made in Chillz Ville' is the first example of CVE's genre-bursting production weirdness, boasting corroded foley-lifted beats that splice car crash FX into wonky synth weirdness that sounds like it's wedged between Cannibal Ox, Kool Keith and Dizzee Rascal's early material. More surreal still is 'Calistylics' that inverts the bands MC styles over snipped bass, rattling percussion and a slowed-down siren. More than just a time capsule, "We Represent Billions" is an important milestone in Los Angeles rap history that spotlights the creativity of a scene that's given us everyone from Flying Lotus to Kendrick Lamar. Crucial.