R.I.P to Coolly Of The MonkeyWrench Factory. Positive vibes and blessings go out to your family, friends, fans, and loved ones. Peace.
I first heard The MonkeyWrench Factory on a sampler from under-appreciated Chicago producer, Moab, who also acted as the crew’s DJ. I was feeling the beats and most of the songs, but undoubtedly the tracks I keep listening to on repeat were all from The MonkeyWrench Factory.
I was blown away by their style and raw sound. The music was filled with aggression, but not blindly, it was focused and passionate. The anger came from caring. Their music acted as the voice of a people who may have felt they had no voice. There was definitely a range in the vibe as well. I was initially most drawn to the assertiveness of songs like “Hardware”, “Tools Of The Trade” & “Rapid Transit”. However, as an alternative you have the melodic escapes of “Mango”, “Lullaby”, and “Other Side Of The Island” that are as beautiful sounding as they are beautifully written. Don’t confuse beauty with soft. Their music and messages are always powerful. Clearly they felt no words were to be wasted on trivial pursuits. They were on a mission and that mission was dire.
Both MCs have a gift for writing in vivid detail, often painting grim reality with a stroke of lyrical genius. There’s also a wealth of innovative rhyme schemes, ranging from smart, but free-flowing to complex and jagged. I once bought them down to the Twin Cities to perform at the Dinkytowner as part of the Fifth Element sponsored “Essential Elements” night and they proved that some energy could also be effectively harnessed on stage. As they projected their words and presence with intensity and raw emotion, a member of their entourage performed high-energy martial arts on the stage beside them, adding an additional compelling spectacle to the show.
Unfortunately, not many got to experience this. Their album “Tools Of The Trade” never really saw a proper release. As a matter fact, besides a couple appearances, they don’t have much available out there. Here’s a glimpse of what they had to offer…
The album starts with “Hardware” and exists as a fitting entry point of what to expect. The music comes in heavy and menacing, suitable to carry the voice of Ikue (a.k.a Enoch), which is as relentless as it is threatening, but laced with intelligence. Without pause the mic is passed to Coolly and a few bars later the beat transitions into something more moody and musical.
On the second verse Coolly comes in without mercy, “Ni**as music sound so ignorant it make the whole race look ridiculous/Puzzle me why the f**k do BET keep spinning it/What purpose to wealth, but good health and progress of a nation/Your mind lies on a virtual plantation with no thoughts of escaping/Until this dedication of hardware, hard to bear reality slap…” Ikue closes the track off with a flow so bugged out it boggles my mind every time I hear it.
“Rapid Transit” picks up the tempo and it gives a visual to what I view as a partial meaning to the name. Many of the beats have this blistering industrial driving fervor that indeed sounds like a factory at work. This beat in particular would fit perfectly as the backdrop in a future apocalyptic action movie during the hi-speed hover car chase scene.
“Sky Scrapers” would have probably been the best option for an underground single. The theme of “Sky Scrapers” is to call for the downfall of the corporate interests that influence and ultimately control far more than the masses are willing to admit or accept. It’s so easy to visual a music video with cameras angled up at their faces as they call for the fall of Babylon as rain pours down on them on a Chicago Downtown night with the buildings towering above them.
This war on those in power continues on “Declaration X”. Printing the hook doesn’t do it justice, as the melodic urgency in which Ikue delivers it gives it an essential part of its character, “We declare war against the American Babylonian people who control the world”, but regardless, the message is clear.
“Mango” was among the first tracks I heard from the group and it was the one that convinced me they could make a significant impact. I knew that the harder edged tracks would satisfy and engage the Underground fanatics, but tracks like “Mango” had potential to unlock untapped possibilities. It’s a Coolly solo track and his excellent writing is prominently showcased particularly in the second verse, “To everybody stressing mortgages and babies to be/Them no worry we, The MonkeyWrench Factory/Exactly the opposite of linen n things/Benz’s and rings, never had a purpose for me/Personally, the feel good vibe’s alive/peace to everybody working hard to survive/to raise the young/Like God raise the sun…” Beyond that, there’s some new jewels sprinkled thru out, “Why you cuffing your dollar, loving your dollar/The color change, slow like Autumn leaves, while po’ folks holler/Told you so!” and there’s something so poetic about the phrasing of, “They say brilliance has a Godly resemblance”. On this track, the term “Mango” exists as an adjective, reflecting a feel good vibe. I’m not sure how anyone could not like this…
“Lullaby” accomplishes the same emotional engagement as "Mango", but with a completely different feel. The track has a unique rhythm to it and gives both MCs the freedom to flow creatively and swiftly. On verse one, Coolly offers some information on his past, but cleverly juxtaposed in contrast to his present thoughts. On the second verse, Ikue delivers one of the finest professions of love you are likely to find in a Hip Hop song.
“Bless Is The Man” is Ikue’s solo joint. It also has imaginative drum programming and melody. Truth be told, the production on the album is well done overall. Seven of the twelve songs are produced by The MonkeyWrench Factory and the remaining five are produced by Moab, including “Bless The Man”. Ikue drops what is probably his best verse on the album, “God bless me with safety and wisdom to discern with truth/My people selling out for dollars like a prostitute/The white collar’s watching you, but I’m like the scholar/and knowledge understands everything is God’s power/In these last hours, it’s ain’t the same no more/People changing, left the sky without stars/And with that in regards I walk the planet alone/Son of God of the universe, the Earth is my throne/From my birth till my death stone fully is how I’m representing/In this land with sinners, been normal since back in the beginning/But now we’re in the ninth inning and we ain’t winning!”
“Black Bird” is sonically beautiful and topically heavy, as it speaks about a runaway dealing with the consequences of her actions, as they try to guide her back home.
“Tools Of The Trade” sounds like the theme music for riding on a mining cart thru a dark underground cavern. On this excavation you’ll find densely packed rhyme schemes providing jewels for the mind.
“The Mechanic” is only track that delves into a freestyle feel and features the album’s only MC guest, Metamo of Rubberoom. I’m not a big fan of using artists comparisons in reviews, it’s often the result of lazy writing, but this cameo does drive home the audio visual that The MonkeyWrench Factory were making music that was worthy and powerful enough to help fill the creative void left by the dismantling of Rubberoom.
The album comes to a mystic and relaxing close with “Other Side Of The Island” which resembles a tropical vacation in another dimension. After nearly two minutes of setting the vibe instrumentally, the vocals come in, somewhat unexpectedly and briefly, offering some final words to bring this enlightening voyage to a close…
MonkeyWrench Factory-Tools Of The Trade Album (2002):
Written, in positive memory of Coolly, by Kevin Beacham