- Foreign Legion
Rappers and producers have long understood that humor is a good way to stand out in the crowded, competitive world of independent rap. The Majesticons and Foreign Legion each use humor as the foremost weapon in their respective arsenals, but where The Majesticons' approach is arch and postmodern, Foreign Legion's is shticky, populist, and proudly lowbrow. The brainchild of prankster Mike Ladd, the former's Beauty Party serves as the second entry of a trilogy documenting the battle between good and evil as played out in the hip-hop sphere. The first entry, The Infesticons' Gun Hill Road, ended with indie-rap torchbearer The Infesticons defeating The Majesticons, a group made up of robots that embody everything insipid about mainstream hip-hop. The latter strikes back with Beauty Party, an album that so faithfully conveys the obsessions, sound, and tone of jiggy hip-hop that, out of context, it would be easy to mistake it for the music it parodies. Every song title ends with the word "Party," from "Intro Party" to the album-closing "San Trope Party." "Intro Party" begins with a breathless hype man giving shout-outs to everyone from Alan Greenspan to Bill Gates, but from there on out, the humor is so deadpan that it's occasionally possible to miss it. At its best, the execution lives up to the premise's brilliance: "Brains Party" smartly transforms Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots Of Money)" into a materialistic anthem for would-be players. "Majestwest Party" offers a cynical take on West Coast G-funk opportunism, highlighted by a wry guest turn from Definitive Jux all-star Murs. Uneven but intermittently brilliant, Beauty Party makes a point that's as simple as it is resonant: that the materialism of mainstream rap is an adolescent fantasy peddled cynically to escapism-starved masses. Where Beauty Party may sometimes be too deadpan for its own good, Foreign Legion's Playtight has the opposite problem: Hip-hop class clowns Mark Stretch and Prozack are so eager for laughs that they occasionally resort to corny jokes and lame punchlines, though that eagerness to please registers as both a weakness and a strength. The duo's irreverent, self-deprecating slacker-hedonist shtick isn't unique, but funny lyrics, inspired production, and sturdy song concepts did help make the group's 2000 album Kidnappervan: Beats To Rock While Bike-Stealin' a stellar debut. Playtight eschews the East Coast-influenced production and DJ Premier-style scratching of Kidnappervan in favor of low-riding G-funk minus the G, but thankfully, the trio has retained its sense of humor and gift for clever story songs. "Party Crashers" crafts a hip-hop variation on the overlooked party-crashing classic Hangin' With The Homeboys, while "Roommate Joint" finds the rappers playing the roles of a slovenly ne'er-do-well and his long-suffering roommate. But on the album's best song, "How Do It Feel," Prozack and Stretch drop the jokes and get serious with surprisingly formidable results. Entertainers rather than innovators, the members of Foreign Legion just want to have fun, and while it's not as consistently inspired as their debut, Playtight makes a solid case for their brand of hip-hop comedy.