A local rap outfit brings major-league skills, positive vibes, and tongue-in-cheek humour to its new album.
On the one hand, Notes to Self is a very serious hip-hop act. MCs Roshin, Swamp Donkey, and Bronze One are three of the best rappers in the city right now, and Bronze is also an in-demand producer. Turntablist DJ Dopey, another member, is literally one of the best in the world. He won the DMC Championship—turntablism’s World Series—back in 2003. (The group also includes writer and illustrator Elicser.)
On the other hand, if Notes’ new album, Target Market (Recoil) is anything to go by, the MCs aren’t particularly serious guys. It’s not that Target Market is a joke rap record. It’s not. It’s just remarkably good natured.
Target Market spans the whole range of good vibes, from the victorious “Today,” to the inspirational “Nobody,” to the straight-up overjoyed “Sky Light.” Even “Mr. Polite,” a song about love gone wrong, is more tongue-in-cheek than sad or angry.
The two strongest songs on the album, “Oh My God (Life is So Hard)” and “All of the Above,” both take aim at hip hop’s own worn-out tropes. “Oh My God” is a sendup of the “ballin’ out of control” subgenre. It starts out semi-believably, with the boys rapping about smoking high-quality cannabis and boning groupies, then takes a turn for the ridiculous, until the usually humble MCs are rolling around in customized monster trucks, skiing the Alps, and attending private art exhibitions. (The song also samples both Jay-Z and Def Leppard, both of whom know a thing or two about conspicuous consumption.)
“All of the Above” tries to sort out, once and for all, what is and isn’t hip hop. It’s a creatively presented list of true-school standards, recent trends, and things with only tenuous connections to the genre, all on top of a stripped-down, yet hypnotic, beat. (You can listen to “All of the Above” by clicking on the sample above.)
It’s hard to be serious about your work without starting to take yourself too seriously, but on Target Market, Notes to Self manages to do just that.