The early nineties were without a doubt the greatest years in hip hop. While Wu Tang Clan ran the East Coast game, laidback G-funk ruled in California. HazMat artist Vicious 5150 from Port Coquitlam, B.C. recaptures the greatness of West Coast rap on his 12th album, The One Who Two’d The Three. The twelve-track release is so faithful to the nineties sound that I had to check the liner notes a couple of times to make sure I had read the release date (May 30, 2017) correctly.
After an odd instrumental introduction consisting of generic beats, electronic xylophone, and atmospheric sci-fi sounds, “Hard to Say” opens with hip hop breaks and a G-funk bass line. Vicious’ lyrics get deep and personal, tackling serious subjects like introversion, lacking motivation, and being at peace with his inner demons. He leaves the outcome of his struggles open-ended, concluding that “…it’s hard to say whether or not I’m gonna be ok.”
Several West Coast underground rappers make guest appearances on the album. One of the best jams, “Get Through the Day,” includes Vancouver’s Mista Mead, who sounds like Dr. Dre, but less chill and more self-reflective. Although some of the lyrics are juvenile, like his description of beginning a day by “taking a poo,” the track is an honest look at the struggles of an aspiring artist, including drug use and getting shit done. “To Hell and Back” and “No Benefit” feature another Vancouver guest, Wise Basis. The rapping on these tracks is tight, fast, and there’s some good flow between Vicious and the guest MC. Wise Basis has a laid back, R&B style that compliments Vicious’ faster lyrical style.
“Burn Them Alive,” featuring Tyrow James, is a graphic description of violence beginning with a police scanner recording an evacuation in progress. In the battle rap or sound clash tradition, the violence depicted in the song isn’t real, rather a lyrical assault on a competing crew. The lyrics warn of a sacrifice that will become of “rappers who try to compete,” describing the torture of competitors while ominously repeating “burn, burn, B-U-R-N burn them alive.” Don’t bother competing with these guys or they will burn down your house and then “smoke weed.”
“Sorry, I Was Hammered,” featuring Skam One, opens with a good piano riff and a Brit telling a woman,“I am not fucking drunk.” The MC then describes a scene of violent misogyny and erratic behavior, apologizes for it, and blames his aggressive behavior on drinking.
After listening to The One Who Two’d The Three, I’m not sure if Vicious 5150 listened to any rap music made after 1995. The album seems stuck in that era, particularly the production. It’s fine to be influenced by a period in music, but to me, good producers channel their inspiration and bring it up to date with new sounds. Still, we don’t get much West Coast underground rap in Quebec, and with a slew of guest appearances by artists from the area, The One Who Two’d The Three is a good introduction the B.C. rap scene.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Lia Davis