Undeservedly slept-on hip-hop albums inevitably fall into several categories. The rapper may lack the funds to employ a good publicist, the contacts to land high-profile guest appearance, and occasionally, it boils down to a bad name (see also: Preemo). Curly Castro’s first major mixtape was waylaid by all three, a mildly surprising development considering the Philly by-way-of-Brooklyn rapper has the uncanny ability to conceive stellar pseudonyms for everyone but himself.
Not to needlessly malign Castro’s sobriquet — it’s a bland dictator-consumed alias that would work well in the Outlawz, but doesn’t fit for a dread-locked, sci-fi obsessed rhyme wolverine, reminiscent of a less technical-Royce crossed with the cool black nerditry of a vintage Can Ox. Philly-based but Brooklyn-bred, Castro is a man who owns the DVD’s of all four seasons of Sliders, can pull off un-ironic songs about The Simpons and freestyle with obscene creativity. Yet despite Zilla Rocca’s emphatic co-sign, I still didn’t want to check out his record — mainly because I had him confused with Hussein Fatal.
At times, Phatman feels like what it is: an auspicious debut from a gifted artist with miles to travel before he fully descends from the hills of Havana. Castro’s rhymes are always adroit and he deftly handles the beats to “The Whole World” and “Give the Drummer Sum,” but like most of the mixtape pack, it assumes that being a good rapper and selecting solid beats is enough. But there are more than enough moments on this tape to convince you otherwise. Castro’s a natural griot, blessed with an innate understanding of history and his place in the world. And on “Summer of ’77,” he poignantly weaves the season of his birth, with the black out, the Son of Sam, and the birth of hip-hop. Admittedly, the topic is overly familiar, but Castro personalizes it in a way that extends eyond cliche — he captures the struggle to find one’s bearings in an environment of constant flux and re-birth.
MP3: Curly Castro-“Summer of ’77”
MP3: Curly Castro (prod. by Green Lidget Position)-“Teenager”