December 2, 2013

Max Bell will take potent potables for $200.

The Outfit, TX is one of the best rap groups in Texas. Their 2012 debut, Starships & Rockets: Cooly Fooly Space Age Funk remains one of the most satisfying and fully realized rap albums from last year. It’s nostalgic, contemporary, and futuristic. It’s a regionally reverent re-invention and a forward-thinking fantasy.

Cognac/Four Corner Room is the group’s second official LP. Billed as the first two installments of The Outfit, TX’s five-part “Texan Chronicles” series, the album’s a double-disc divided between two-thirds of the trio, Mel and Dorian. They share production credits on Cognac, and Mel handles primary mic duties for those first fourteen tracks. The latter thirteen tracks (Four Corner Room) find Dorian alone producing, in addition to tackling most of those beats solo. Unfortunately, JayHawk is hardly anywhere in sight throughout.

Mel’s Cognac is the better of the two sides. He’s the more skilled MC, both in terms of lyrical content and delivery. His voice also possesses a lilting yet smooth playalistic quality, one that elevates even the stalest southern fried fare above par. The fact that he and Dorian collaborated on the beats also works in favor of this half of the record.

“Purple Diamond Tea” and “isyagonshakeit?”  harken back to Starships & Rockets.. The former is subdued syrupy swanging with patches of eerie choral warbles and cemetery synths. Here Mel espouses the benefits of riding around the South with wood grain on the wheel and a woman orally working your body’s gearshift. “isyagonshakeit?” is a more hydraulic affair, the sound of a spectral marching band bouncing for the cheeks that clap. His delivery carnally charged, Mel has one question and a pocket full of ones.

Songs like those above are a rewarding listen, and there are others on Cognac. However, “Business Man” feels half-baked, the beat lacking the lush, full sound of other Outfit tracks, and Mel’s generally elastic rhymes appear stretched thin. Conversely, the repetitive and unimaginative hook on “Munky Muzik” doesn’t match the level of craftsmanship in the production.  It’s also readily apparent on Four Corner Room that Dorian is more used to being behind the boards. The production is first-rate, but the rhymes don’t yet match his Dallas-bred compatriots.

Cognac/Four Corner Room has plenty of gems, but also could probably be cut in half. It’s not a  sophomore slump as much it is the result of an alteration of approach. According to Shea’s MTV piece on the group, most of The Outfit, TX’s last album was composed after hours of riding around listening to beats together. It doesn’t feel like they made Cognac/Four Corner Room the same way. Mel, Dorian, and JayHawk are all integral pieces of an undeniably funky Texas tripod. Without one leg, it feels a bit off balance balance. This is a good record, but one can’t help but hope that for the rest of the “Texan Chronicles,” they all hop back in the same slab.

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