(Slow Motion Soundz; 2011)

By Colin McGowan | 17 January 2011

Though the Bama natives have frequently laid their verses down over a bed of dense beats and glorious layers of reverberation, trunk-slapping production isn’t the only thing at the heart of G-Side’s appeal. Credit that to the Block Beattaz, probably the best production team of the past half-decade or so; far from the work of independent Lex Lugers, as the above description may imply, theirs is a style with a lot more nuance than simply unleashing one massive drop after another. The genius of their production lies within their willingness to apply a host of different sounds to their distinctive template. Especially now, with G-Side’s latest album, The ONE… COHESIVE: Huntsville hip-hop’s officially gotten weird.

So: trance music, acoustic guitars, cheesy stadium rock, string sections, soul singers, gospel choirs? Sure, throw all that stuff in there. They’ll make it knock. It’s fitting that, working with Huntsville’s most talented and ambitious rappers, they, accompanied by a stable of like-minded up-and-comers, would finally choose to start messing with the template itself.

“Y U Mad” features hardly any percussion at all; ST and Clova’s verses just hang there in the haunted mist. “I’m Sorry” sounds more like “Wolf Cub” off of the Burial/Four Tet 12” from a couple years ago than the work of hip-hop beatmakers. It’s not that these guys are reaching for Anticon levels of abstraction or trying to flip the climaxes of ambient records into club fodder—it’s just this is noticeably different from, like, everything else I’ve ever heard on a rap record. While the middle portion of Starshipz and Rocketz hinted at this airy anti-thump, the production on tracks like “Strictly Buzinezz” and “Minute Away” followed a direct lineage, the descendant of breezy R&B album cuts off, say, UGK albums. They were also self-consciously downtempo: smooth shit to ride around to on a Friday night. COHESIVE is more concerned with subtlety, with carefully earned dynamism, occasionally relieving the tension its minimalism creates care of a big hook or drop. You remember how “Speed of Sound” is beautiful and jaw-loosening? Nearly everything here strives for that level of beauty.

The cool thing about ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova is that they use these panoramic canvases to talk the same shit they always have: hustling, business strategy, boasts, all imbued with an earnest hopefulness that helps them transcend the ordinary gangsta archetypes. Of course, this leads to some odd juxtapositions. Take “Pictures,” a bafflingly epic beat for an ode to late-night booty calls. It lends a statement like “I’m just chillin’ gettin’ stoned” a gravitas that would seem ridiculous were it not bathed in such lush tones.

At other times, the production and verses cohere like an ideal realized. As “Nat Geo” builds from sparse drum pattern and passive synths into a giant, pulsing matrix of organic splendor, ST’s thoughts spill out in elegant patterns: “Wings grown / Cue my theme song / Even if I’m havin’ night tremors, just let me dream on.” This moment presents itself during a run of heat; it’s the smoldering core of the record, the ethereal anthem for which an album of COHESIVE‘s ambition aches.

One aspect of G-Side’s music that has come to the forefront over the past couple years is a self-assuredness, not just on the mic, but in their business model. If you listen to Huntsville International (2009) or COHESIVE for a few tracks, you’re guaranteed to hear something about how Bama’s native sons are doing what they do—touring internationally, churning out quality records, stacking paper—without the aid of any label at all. ST raps on “Nat Geo,” “Oh you got a deal, congratulations / And my condolences, I hope you maintain your ownership.” There’s a sense that, while they must deal with the undertakings of booking studio time, setting up tour dates, and promoting their product themselves, they’re doing this the easy way while others spend time shooing away A&Rs and fighting to get their work released. This wouldn’t be of note were G-Side not growing in stature, but they’ve been featured in the New York Times and played an NPR showcase at SXSW last year. Clear Channel may ignore them, but they don’t seem to notice. They’re running a successful small business, not a multinational corporation.

They’re also carrying on in the tradition of independent rap artists from the fertile early 2000s, producing whatever they damn please and selling it for ten bucks. An uncompromising approach can lead to disaster, either financially or creatively, but COHESIVE is the paradigmatic fruit of such an approach. Let your buddies from across town fuck with their sound until it knocks in a new way, let everybody know how great you are, and let that shit simmer, brilliantly. Weird, right?

:: myspace.com/gside74