To this day one of the best demos I ever received from an unknown crew came from Dallas, TX in the form of The Distortionists a.k.a Skwodd X. The four-man crew consisted of Kwasar, Soule, Jigsaw and Massive*. With the exception of one track, the production is handled by Kwasar. Kwasar has a keen understanding of how to blend moody musicality with traditional Boom-Bap. Their five-song demo is like a musical melting pot, merging East Coast lyricism, West Coast abstract stylistics, and Down South vibes, all-together a lethal combination.
Each MC has a strong and distinctive voice, as well as their own style. I always appreciated the fact that on the demo tape cover they listed the MCs in order of appearance, so you could easily indentify who was conducting the verbal assault at any given movement.
Speaking of the demo tape, it also has the production credits, copyright symbol, and year of the recording, all neatly written and organized. It is this attention to detail and professionalism, accompanied by the exceptional music, which adds to the surprise and disappointment that this didn’t lead to a record deal or any official releases. This all takes place 1996, as the era of the Indie Label is reaching a new peak, so it’s quite possible that they did have some regional releases that I missed out on, but I have certainly looked and asked for years to no avail. A more recent online search did yield some better results, more on that later.
The tape opens up with “Retaliation”, the lone representation with all members of the crew contributing verses. Rather than directly reference the title on the hook, they challengingly mock the competition, courtesy a repetitious PMD hook, chanting, “Damn you shouldn’t have did that”, slowed-down invoking a slightly sinister feel. Massive sparks it off with his signature rapid-fire flow and uncompromising brute force or perhaps a bit more creative means of delivered suffering, such as “Speeding past, suffocate you/snatch the air from the atmosphere.” Next, Soule reveals his curious nature when he chooses to, “Peel your skin back to expose your cranial contents/To dissect with my dialect/Then I elect my intellect to be the highest…” Jigsaw details his own means of blowing the minds of competing MCs, “Submerge, you can call me the scourge behind the mic stand/Because I jump inside your brain, explode, and make your mind expand.” Kwasar gives some history on his crew, “Causing distortion, ’95 to us 2000/Back in ’88 we started housing/Then we got hit with shockwaves that came propelling from the east/The power surge merged my rhymes, now I won’t cease…” Massive comes in for a second performance to bring it to a close with an impressive display of flawless delivery.
“Lyrical Rush” has a mellow beat, but keeps it on the downlow... Meaning it is essentially a laid back track, but there are strategically placed dominating snares, programmed in a studder-style that gives it a slightly frantic feel. As the title suggests, the lyrics are aggressive, aimed directly and dangerously at the competition.
“Dope Compensation” [Produced by K-Phlx] is the true mellow track on the demo. I suppose it is my least favorite, yet it is really good. Point being, even at the “worst”, they were better than most things out there. Soule and Kwasar kick it back n forth with the winning Distortionists formula, Soul influenced B-Boy purity, laced with a slight touch of mystics. I suppose this is the perfect song to point out their knack for creating hooks that compete with the average MCs verses, “We be the dopest compensation making hits/I do it fluid, when liquid spits I twist fiber optics /We be the dopest compensation making hits/So why you practice, cause you can’t practice looking thru black mist.” IE, lyrically, you can’t see em…
“Bombardment” is a Massive solo track. It was easy to recognize him as a stand out in the group, with his grimy voice, focused by demented mindstate, and fluid yet jagged delivery. After a twenty second dramatic mood-setting intro, Massive immediately enters some dark places, “Verbal injection thruster/That’ll have your circulatory system off when I crush ya bone structure/Shattering men constantly battling intensely/Immediately separate your veins from your brain’s vicinity!” He closes it off with an nice display of freestyle skills.
“Geographics” is easily the sleeper joint here. The track is a bit unassuming and less dynamic than most the other offerings, but it is perfectly moody, birthing a welcoming breeding ground for advanced lyrical methods. None of the representing MCs disappoint and the minimal instrumentation leaves an open-field to flaunt a variety of styles and patterns.
The Distortionists 1996 Demo Sampler:
I learned many years ago that Kwasar remained very active in the business, but by expanding beyond Underground Hip Hop. He actually lived in Minneapolis for awhile working with members of The Time, Prince, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Johnny Gill, etc… Later he did some production and co-writing with Erykah Badu. He’s been running his company, Chocolate Groove for over a decade now and is still making moves.
*Apparently the full crew was larger than this four man collective presented on this tape.