Underground rap label Battle Axe Records has become somewhat like Rawkus Records through time. They started out with a couple of unique acts and dropped some strong compilations. The label built strong connections with other underground cliques and groups. For Battle Axe they were Hieroglyphics, Living Legends, Dilated Peoples, Freestyle Fellowship/Project Blowd, and the Visionaries. As Rawkus grew they started to become less underground and a little more mainstream. With Battle Axe centre piece group Swollen Members, it looks as though BAX is headed in the same direction. Now artists gaining mainstream exposer and exploring new territory aren't bad things by themselves but both those things can be taken wrong directions. On Balance the collaborations S+M chose were for the most part hip hop legends (Del, Everlast, Divine Styler, & Aceyalone). On Bad Dreams they option for more contemporaries (Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5, Planet Asia and their Battle Axe worriers). On Balance their turntablists as well (Kut Masta Kurt & Mix Master Mike), now on BD they employ slightly newer Djs (Babu & Revolution). On the production end, Zodak who handled 5 songs on Balance is now no where to be seen. Paul Nice who made the beat for "Lady Venom" their first hit of any size is gone as well. Alchemist plays a smaller role as does Kemo. Nucleus who I have never heard of takes three songs on BD and co-executive produces the album. Soon to be Swollen Member Rob The Viking does a whopping 7 beats on this one, surprising since he wasn't on Balance. Luckily Evidence still has three productions like the last album. I'm all for artists expanding when it's done well (Outkast, Common, Snoop Dogg). When Swollen does it they just don't sound as original as they once did. If this was a step in positive evolution I wouldn't mind so much. If their latest albums indication "Monsters In The Closet" and "Heavy" all they care about is cliched lyrics, corny hooks and flossing and partying. This is by no means a bad album it stays true to the core of S+M but gives them room to breathe, but it has flaw. I'll get to the breakdown now though...
Take It Back ft/ DJ Revolution ~ This is the first experience of Rob The Viking production on the album. While the first couple of tracks sounded a little different than what Swollen delivered before it was similar and I enjoyed it. This shocked me when I first heard it. The production is actually up beat, almost downright happy. It uses a repetitive steady guitar lick, some spacey keys thrown in, nice effects, and horn snaps on the hook. Mad Child and Prev stay intact lyrically. Their trade off verses in the middle are the best the song has to offer with Mad Child being the nicest. Revolutions scratching is ill on the hook and end of song too.
Bad Dreams ~ Alchemist comes in on the boards to help bring that classic S+M ish to life. Prev 1's opening has to be the best part of the song with paranoia and nightmarish thoughts. Alchy uses amazing bass and chimey spooky keys for the beat with crumbly and explosion effects to round things out.
Ventilate ft/ DJ Babu ~ A very amusing and creative joint springs up right here. Prevail and Mad Child trade verses insulting each other and airing their grievances. They describe and show how in a group it's important to be open about things and speak your mind so in the end you can come together to make beautiful ish. The lines are sort of done like an interview, real kool. Label associate Joey Chavez does the production. He basically uses a funky wobbly key board bop and some nice crowd and percussion effects. Babu's work on the tables is fairly understated but are a welcome touch. Check out this verse:
Mad Child: "/Man, I can't believe I have to go through all of this again, I gave you your position/
Prev: /What, I thought we were friends?!/
/I didn't ask, you offered, you're short-tempered and demanding/
/It's my energy on stage that makes our show so outstanding/
Mad Child: /Look, when we first hooked up, my first thought was you're a pansy/
/You couldn't rap on beat, you little four-eyed geek/
Prev: /Yeah? And at the club there's a reason we don't hang out that much/
/You're double-fisted with two Heinekens actin like a lush/
Mad Child: /That's better than a leech, I tried to teach you to be tough/
/I guess it's hard to squeeze strength out of a cream puff/
Prev: /Oh you're rough?/
Mad Child: /Yeah, that's right/
Prev: /Hey, let me pass you a pen/
/So you can fill an application at the Hair Club for Men/"
Fuel Injected ft/ Moka Only ~ Swollen Members real breakthrough single. They didn't really sell out or anything for this to become a hugely popular song in their native land of Canada but it damn sure is catchy. Moka adds his smoked out singing to the hook and Kemo/Concise do their best version of DJ Shadow's "Organdonors" for the beat. Mad Child & Prevail drop strong boastful rhymes throughout the song and Moka's sung verse is a good listen too. (Saukrates remixes the beat and drops a verse on another version of the song at the end of the album)
This is Swollen's best commercially accessible album by far. It's a nice bridge between underground and commercial. I think it would be better if Moka & Rob stayed out of the group, Although I love Moka his solo work is much better, but its nice if he collaborates. Rob I don't mind him handling a beat or two but when he does most of the album he adds an unpleasant effect. Oh well what can a guy do, 3.5. Peace, Love & Soul...