Felt Vol. 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet
y the time backpacker It boys Slug and Murs roll into Sin City for the metaphor-you-can-see-from-space “Life Vegas,” it’s already pretty clear “guys night out” will be showing up as one of Felt Vol. 2’s “themes” over at allmusic.com.
The second installment of the Felt project (not to be confused with the English post-punk act) from one-half of Atmosphere (Slug) and one-eighth of Living Legends (Murs), the barely-sequitur A Tribute to Lisa Bonet comes off like a big ‘ol sweaty male-bonding drum circle from two guys who know plenty about being easy targets on their own.
As individual artists, both Slug and Murs have big issues with their own testosterone, frequently embodying rap’s playerific disregard for feelings, then flaying themselves later for the same in an awkwardly self-absorbed offering to the new sensitive-male regime. At times their brusing honesty is compelling—ugly as these ideas may be, lots of real-life guys struggle with them as well. Other times it’s just self-pitying myopic bullshit, Slug and Murs martyring themselves for having to fuck groupies and then congratulating themselves for being nice to them.
In the past, when each emcee has been the only voice on the record, all that oversexed soul-baring has mostly come off as hopelessly stunted sour grapes, the lonely, alienating narcissism of perpetual puberty. Put Slug and Murs in the same room, however, and suddenly you’ve got a harmless boys-will-be-boys weekend bender that just naturally devolves into a drunken chest-beating bitchfest about the unfairness of the fairer sex.
The whole trajectory is here too, starting with convivial buddy raps like the old-school boom-bap of “Employees of the Year” and “Gangster Ass Anthony,” and the shiny discofied funk of “Your Mans and Them.” When the sausage party starts to lose its flavor, it’s time for the real festivities to begin—scouting talent, making selections, and doing the damn thing on “Dirty Girl,” the Beasties-tricked “Early Morning Tony” and the creepily minimal “Breaker Down Like a Shotgun.” The former is particularly winning, a fun and playful subversion of gender roles where Slug puts himself in a real position of weakness, falling for a grease-streaked female mechanic who wields her wrench like the ultimate phallic weapon. Put it this way—you’d never hear a sex song where the balance of power had been so decentered by, say, Dipset.
As soon as things are finished and the ladies are hustled out the door, the drinks keep flowing and things start getting really sloppy: messy declarations of self-hate, defiance, and remorse spilling like seminal fluid all over tracks like the woodwinded “Morris Day” and the sample-haunted tandem of “Marvini Gaye” and “Woman Tonight,” even trickling into muddled politics on “The Biggest Lie.” It sounds heavy on paper, but 90% of the philosophy Slug and Murs undertake on the record essentially boils down to answering one eternal question: “why must I chase the cat?”
Of course, women aren’t the only dominant group Slug and Murs have to team up to tackle. As oft-photographed ambassadors for the new indie-rap takeover, both emcees have been linchpins for criticism and occasional derision. Like many underground rhymers, the pair find themselves stuck in an uneasy relationship with the mainstream platinum standard, deliberately trying not to come weak with it while also making sure to skirt patent imitation, trapped into defining themselves by how well they can transcend or tweak the established norm. You can hear traces of this mentality throughout the record, in lines like “I love you like a rap kid loves breaks” or “I got more rhymes than rappers who got shot,” not to mention the whole of the faux-gritty “Your Mans and Them.” On the whole, however, the perfunctory feel of this side project is a godsend for Slug and Murs—free from the burdens of proof so regularly saddled onto indie-rap aspirants, the two emcees can flex their formidable talents (no matter the competition), and fully utilize the always-superlative Ant and his kinetically sleazy beats.
In 2005, underground hip-hop is the equivalent of Euro basketball league—notice the shared emphasis on fundamentals and the self-congratulatory reputation for doing things “the right way.” Of course, there’s still the popular opinion many of these guys are too soft to dominate the Show (in this equation, year-end crit polls = 2004 Olympics, MF Doom = Manu Ginobli), so like Vlade and Peja trying to shake the dreaded “finesse” label, Slug and Murs are wagering that a little safety in numbers helps Felt Vol. 2 escape the solo scrutiny they’ve separately encountered in their shared small pond.