I think it can be safely said that the idea of the Hip Hop Super-group has brought more disappointment than joy. Either we hear an announcement about some mouth-watering league of Hip Hop forces that then never comes to be. Or, it actually does happen and despite the high caliber individual skills of the artists involved, they don’t bring their A-Game, usually because it’s a project they are rushing to get complete in-between their own careers and lives.
Soundsci, who certainly should fall under the Super-Group banner*, not only avoid this fate, but also set the bar high for future collaboration’s of this nature. The crew is comprised of Audessey (MassInfluence), Jonny Cuba (Dynamic Syncopation), Ollie Teeba (Herbaliser), U-George (Hemisphere), and Oxygen (Sputnik Brown). It’s worth noting that this formation couldn’t have better been conceived in a laboratory…it’s a near perfect “formula”. In their respective groups, they were each integral parts of creating music that would work for a great string of seamless mixing by a DJ, with numerous interchangeable song options. In other words, all the pieces fit just right.
I have lost track to how many times I have listened to this album, but it’s surely over the two dozen mark and I’ve only had it in my possession for a week. I suppose one reason is that, even though it is fourteen tracks deep, the album clocks in just under 42 minutes total. The songs are strong, compact, and to the point, which lends to the strength of the album. When it ends, you may find yourself surprised that you’ve already experienced the full album, but also so completely satisfied that allowing it to start over seems like the right thing to do.
Even with that many listens I’m still finding new things to appreciate about the album in the details of the beats, lyrics, concepts, cuts, and overall feeling. Upon my first listen my mental responses were all fairly quick and simple thoughts laced with the B-Boy essence that the album projects. I found myself, from track to track, thinking, “Dope”, “Fresh”, “Nice”, “Aight”, “Oh Word, they flipping it like that?” and things of that nature. The next few listens I found myself treating the album as some sort of Hip Hop time piece reference guide, as the vibe of various songs conjured different names in my mental space; Digable Planets, D.I.T.C, Camp Lo, Brand Nubian, The Legion, Divine Styler, Black Starr, the sounds of Cold Chillin’ and Wildpitch, so on and on…
What that illustrates is that the album pulls from many different sources for inspiration. In fact, it could be easy to listen to most of the album and label it a throwback. Although, “Formula 99” undoubtedly taps into the styles, aesthetics, and sounds of 80s and 90s Hip Hop, it definitely doesn’t stop there. Soundsci quite often take it back even further to the roots and inspirations that spawned Hip Hop, including 70s Soul/Funk, Reggae, Comic Books, Cartoons, Old Time Radio, TV Shows, Cinema and more. The result is an album that is essential timeless.It doesn’t seem to be a astretch that I could pull out this album 20 years from now and it still sound refreshing, with only a few references that would reveal it’s exact place in time (EX: references to Obama, popular social medias, etc…)
The album sparks off with “Lockdown” and gets right to the grime and grit of it all. The production reminds me of some sort of hybrid of Beastie Boys circa “Check Your Head” meets Gang Starr circa “A Daily Operation”….an ill combo.
“Hey Hey” allows them to flex the skill of mixing political commentary without sacrificing their feel good energy and their desire to return to the classics, as perfectly captured in the final line, “It’s a love/hate relationship, Born into the membership/Of the country that created Funkadelic’s Mothership!”
“In A Flash” is the first in a few of the more up-tempo album tracks, which take a real raw, stripped-down approach. “In A Flash” uses interjected exclamations of the title to work in tandem with the lyrics, best illustrated by Oxygen on the second verse, “(In a flash) you can go from hell to right/automatically defeated if you fail to fight/Keep your eyes on the prize and deny the lies/Enterprise and be careful who you idolize/(In a flash) can go from even to odd, be a firm Atheist to believing in God/Have a steady paycheck to laid off and homeless/Thinking it can’t happen is quite erroneous…”
Other tracks on the picking up the pace, break beat tip are “Rhyme 4 Rhyme” (featuring Ghettosocks + Cadence) and “End Game”. Both of which are album highlights.
For some reason, at least for me, “Candyland” invokes a feeling of the Harlem Renaissance, even if only visions of the fashion sense. It’s one of those beats that a writer hears and knows the only proper direction you can take is a story. Soundsci comply and construct a story of drug addiction and the corrupting of humanity that goes along with it. Not a unfamiliar topic, but to give it a alternate visual, the adventurers in this tale are all plucked from childhood classics; Goldilocks, Gingerbread Man, The Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, Three Stooges, The Wicked Witch, Pinocchio and Willy Wonka all make smudged character appearances.
“Da Livin” is a pure roots reggae joint that discusses the progressively worse crime-ridden neighborhoods that exists in when returning home after a long absence, but could reflect the similar situations around the world. Whether it’s streets filled with scowling faces or the lack of the ability to wear anything of any noticeable value without consequence, in either case the sign of the times are ever-present. The song has an authentic enough Reggae sound to it that you might check your music player of choice to make sure a new album didn’t load up or perhaps you’ll want to verify someone didn’t accidently place a different artist on the Soundsci album.
“Ill Dialect” is true to name and features the MCs focusing on creative lyricism and stylings. Audessey opens it up with, “It’s…mission impossible, clearly unstoppable/Hip Hoppable, logical, extreme and topical/Intellect, correct, my mic check is set/Transmitting my data, here upon the Ill Dialect/Yeah, Bombing it, dominant flows, I’m on it/Prominent beats infiltrate my brain and now I respond to it!” Following the Fat Joe scratch break, Oxygen comes in with a calm demeanor, while still possessing some aggressive undertones, “I be…the Strong Island deriver, the grand verbalizer/O-X the architect, up next to get the crowd live-er/Completely focused in my lane, don’t disturb the driver… ”
I don’t know why, but I find it quite appropriate when the title track is my favorite song. I guess I just feel if a song on your album is going to correspond with the title then it should be treated like the defining song for the album. Oddly, most often it’s not. Title songs tend to not live up to the albums complete potential. “Formula 99” doesn’t have that problem. The beat is heavy, murky, spacey, and superbly programmed. Combined with the top-notch lyricism, it makes this a perfect example to define the primary essence of the crew.
“Change” has an intro that sounds like one of those moody Millie Jackson socio-emotional tracks. When the official track drops it’s a bit more bright and colorful, but the message remains powerful, as they maintain a balance of insightfulness and reflection.
There are really no weak links or filler on the album. They apparently took some time in music crafting, song selection, and arrangement for the album. “Trees” pulls from a sample source that I recognize from Grav’s “Line For Line” track in ’96, which was not only among Kanye West’s first productions, but also his first vocal appearance on wax. Soundsci definitely flip it differently and inject some extra elements for flavor. “Give Thanks” sounds like a pure Mass Influence track and have me wanting to pull out “The Underground Science” for a follow up listen. “Keep On” is the first track I heard from Soundsci, courtesy Taura Love’s “Picki People” compilation, and it’s the track that made me become an instant fan. That was before I even knew who was in the group. I recognized the voices, but didn’t put it together until much later. “Remedy (Remix)” is a relaxing way to end the album. It’s an excellent example of how well they are at mastering different vibes.
“Formula 99” is an impressive collection of varied yet cohesive material, assembled courtesy of artists who clearly have a love for the Culture and passion for their respected crafts.
“Formula 99” is coming out on Crate Escape Records and in terms of physical formats it is only available on vinyl. The 2XLP is limited to 300 copies and contains a Lyric Sheet for your dual sensory listening pleasure. Shouts to Crate Escape label owner, DJ Cro for helping mastermind this project. I look forward to what Crate Escape has in store for unearthing in the future.
Written By Kevin Beacham
*-The Super-Group theory doesn’t end with the album performers. Legendary UK Engineer, No Sleep Nigel mixed the album, and Mr Krum designed the album art.