Is having a multifaceted persona a disorder? Some call it a problem, I call it a gift. Let me introduce you to some of my friend’s friends. Meet Buc Nicer from the 23rd Century. Buc is your hero’s hero; a spirited emcee from the future with something to prove. Molded by rage, Victor Von is super-villainous. Consumed by chaos, and drunk on a takeover mentality, he is kept in check by his peers for everyone’s safety. Skilly Mcgillicuty is an entrepreneur and a communications expert ready to up the net worth of his network. Who heads this motley crew? That would be silly j-skills, a life documentarian, lyricist, poet, and a rapper’s rapper. Actually, all of these entities are physically embodied by Justin Donahue; an English major who resides in rural Missouri. To quote the man himself, “Now that you know me, it must be no danger/ ain’t your momma’ always taught you never rap with no strangers?”
In this region, many intelligent working class people are bored. Due in part to limited opportunities for stimulating experiences, free thinkers spark their own creativity and art is born. A myriad of out-of-the-box type projects are undertaken in the sticks of Missouri. Many of them (like rural anywhere) are plainly bad, while some are uncommonly amazing. silly j-skills and Bustrip of Rhyme University have put together something with an exciting flashiness, intriguing social sting, and plenty of homage paid to Hip-Hop’s originators.
This project is called Formats, Formulas and Other F-Words, and is produced entirely by Bustrip. The F-words (and all words) are flipped on a flagrant level. silly j-skills possesses a rapid-fire flow that solidifies Bustrip’s beats into tracks heavier than dark matter. See track eleven, Metafour Phantastic for details. The Formula has some solid core elements. It is equal parts personal journey, political/societal rage, and an acute resurrection of the original Hip-Hop vibe, mixed with experimental production and monstrous flows. The Formatting, or lack thereof, is what really sets it apart.
Obviously there are formats to each song, but the point is they don’t bend over backward to keep them the standard 16 bar verses, 4-8 bar hooks. When being creative, skills and Bus don’t restrain themselves to someone else’s rules. When skills wants to rip 80 bars straight, he does (see track 10 Give us….). When Bustrip wants to flip a steam punk era circus beat like track two’s Step Right Up, he does. Since this song is one of the most awesomely unorthodox pieces of music I’ve heard in awhile, I had to ask skilly about it.
“When Bus let me hear the beat for “Step Right Up”, I had to have it,” says skills. “I begged him for it! It was so crazy and off-the-wall, it gave me an even deeper sense of freedom to write as freely as possible, and say whatever the hell I wanted to…It embodied the whole “fuck what ya’ll think” concept of the album, which is why, correctly I think, Black Caesar (of Rhyme U.) suggested we place it first. The track seems to be the classic example of “you either love it or hate it”, as my cohorts and general public seem to be divided down the middle on that one.” It’s seems chaotic, but turns out lovely, like fireworks choreographed by pyromaniacs.
There are a couple of tracks that really dip into j-skills’ soul on Formats…, the first being track five’s I Can Feel It. This is skills’ “State of the Union” track so to speak, assuming he himself is “the Union”. It describes his current status and feelings, delicately laid out in part, through his strategy as a spades player, a game he’s spent many hours perfecting with the exact same people he is talking about in the song. It’s very clever. Track twelve’s I Became My Mother, is on an even more personal tip. skills broaches the subject of his own demons with alcohol in relation to his parents and children. His father, who retired from the Marine Corps, and his mother, a civilian government worker, were both taken by alcohol. skills stoically walks the middle of the path between his own tendencies and breaking the cycle for his own kids’ sake.
Track ten is a political fire-starter and a personal favorite, sure to be huge with the Occupy set. It’s called Give Us What We Deserve. On this one I can picture skills and Bustrip stomping through the halls of congress calling people out on their bullshit, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Another compound of the project’s formula is the old school jams. They are packed with Hip-Hop history, original flavor recipe, while the rest of the album keeps it extra crispy. Track’s two, six and thirteen feature Bustrip on the mic as the only guest vocalist to appear on the album. Thirteen’s Stacy Lattisaw is a history lesson of Hip-Hop 79-99. Heavily laced with acronyms of the people who inspired them, Skills and Bus keep it nostalgic, much like GZA on Labels. On track six, Sons of Hip-Hop, Bus brings the funk and drops some classic, but not the usual, Flavor Flav sampling. On the vocals, skills and Bus nicely rock a classic RUN-DMC style back and forth chorus that modern crews don’t even attempt anymore.
As complicated as j-skills’ psyche may be, he is one of the most direct people I have ever met. So when I asked him to give me the project in a nut shell, he stated, “I would describe the Formats project as follows: An attempt to showcase the beauty of going against the grain, while maintaining the integrity and emotion of old school Hip Hop, with the type of reckless, lyrical abandon and innovation to make other emcees smile, all over Bustrip’s fundamentally sound, eclectic tracks. Yeah….this one’s for ‘the heads.”
Formats, Formulas and Other F-Words is now available at the link below for download or nicely
packaged CD’s. (I recommend the latter) Don’t Be Sleepin’. – Hensley