SummaryTypical Cats return, the last of the great true school crews-bearers of transformed tradition, innovators par excellence, and heralds of an undying devotion to the science and magic of boom bap music. The latest installment in the TC saga is 3, their third studio full-length. It plays like a message in a bottle from Hip Hop's timeless present to the bizarre post-physical, digital, viral world in which we live. DJ Natural's production chops have only deepened with time, and the rugged loops of the self-titled "Orange Album" and the live instrumentation of Civil Service have melded to yield a mélange of soul, jazz, funk, roots, radical politics, and a sly refusal to bend to the dictates of current fashion. Kid Knish reprises his role as hip hop's all-time greatest unseen crew member (sorry, Jarobi), serving up samples, historical references, and vinyl oddities for Natural to slice and serve as android slabs of production genius.
TC's trio of MCs-Qwel, Denizen Kane, and Qwazaar-rhyme like men breathing from the soles of their feet. The basis of their legend is in full effect-crackling chemistry, unnerving flow, and true stories. The album plays like a jazz-era cutting session turned confessional booth, a stylistically freewheeling effort threaded together by moments of revelation, underpinned by fiercely focused production and dominated by stories of journey, moments of transformation, and warnings against coming catastrophe. For TC, the MC is a misunderstood figure, a musical seer, a minor prophet, and reluctant hustler, using words to outwit enemies, trump circumstances, and emerge from the belly of the beast with respect and rent money.
Highlights abound-Kane returning to his spoken word roots on "Denizen Walks Away," Qwel giving his early battle rap classics a run for their money on nickel-plated platters like "My Watch" and "Gordeon Knock," and Qwazaar flexing uncanny musical intuition, anchoring the record with meditative efforts on "Puzzling Thing" and "Reflections from the Porch" before pummeling tracks like "Better Luck" and "On My Square." Although the LP is studded with solo shots, crew tracks are the soul of the record. "On My Square" opens with a flurry of horns before exploding into an array of signature styles-multisyllabic combinations from Qwel, laid-back but incisive chatting from Kane, and a classic Qwa verse full of declarations, threats, and witticisms, all cemented by a Qwel chorus imbued with requisite layers of meaning. Natural's production evolves with each verse, sliding from Meters style guitars with knocking drums to moody keys with ease.
The first single, "The Crown" is a frenetic display of jagged guitars and style-shifting that makes it a perfect complement to the Orange Album's classic "Reinventing." The name, however, is something of a misnomer. TC have never been interested in being kings. They've been griots shouting from the village limits, stoning the village idiots, interrupting thieves, and solidifying sterling reputations as rappers' rappers, smokers' smokers, underground Gs, tribal chiefs. There will never be another Typical Cats. They leave the set like five men exiting a burning building, leaving wrecked stages and a catalog of classics in their wake. With their exodus, we find ourselves suddenly grown, having come of age with the culture, standing, as always, at the crossroads. With the music, we move like Gayle Sayers, howl like Magic Sam, see the city like a kid on the project bench, and mark it all down in a black book that will never close. It is what it is. Forever.