Hydroponic Sound System / Central Standards CDs reviewed [Alternate Take]

Music Reviews
Hydroponic Sound System / Central Standards CDs reviewed [Alternate Take]
Nov 28, 2006, 04:37


Dirty South hip-hop comes in many various flavors; you've got the Atlanta crowd kickin' goofy dance steps, the “Chopped and Screwed” crew down in Houston drownin' in cough medicine, the Miami Rick Ross crowd everyday hustlin' shit, and of course Lil' Wayne and what's left of the New Orleans posse. So while hardcore heads have been sleepin' on the Dallas scene now for what seems like years, Hydroponic Sound System and their adherent group of DJs and MCs have been going about their biz in what seems like an aesthetic vacuum. 

Primarily the brainchild of producers Jeff “Skinny Fresh” Wade and Ruben Ayala, HSS has now expanded to include a number of gifted young writers and MCs. MixTape Mentality features Bavu Blakes, Headkrack and Mes—all of whom are quite articulate and inventive. On the track “Reggie Rush,” Headkrack tells the rather insightful story of being hired as a ghostwriter for a hapless rap record being made by an actor trying to crossover into the gangsta lifestyle. The song is an amazing lesson in how manufactured hysteria drives what's left of the music business. “Uptown Shakedown” features a brilliant MC named Grand Supreem and delicate guitar work from legendary Dallas musician Reed Easterwood. The album is sequenced, as the title might suggest, like a mix tape of hotshot North Texas lyricists droppin' their shit on Hydro's beats. Solid and positive all the way through. No fake thug shit.

On the other hand, the Central Standards Strange Melodic Shape collection of instrumentals (from the many DJ and producers who are affiliated with Hydroponic Sound System) is another animal entirely. The main theme here is stark, minimalist abstract hip-hop. The three Hyrdroponic Sound System tracks, “Supa Grip,” “Notes on Early Techno” and “American Pickpocket,” are absolutely dope. “Supa Grip” samples The Scientist and locks in on an infectious bass-driven rasta groove. “Notes,” as the title might suggest, conjures up Tackhead or Mark Stewart and Mafia. Just brilliant. The two contributions by ReHash are outstanding as well; “92” features an almost impossibly funky bass guitar figure, and “Month Four” uses space and texture to create an unusual ambience. Perhaps the most innovative song on the album is “New World” by Com:Plex (producer Luke Sardello), which shows incredible range in texture and sonic motion.

From what I can tell, the Hydroponic crew is quite content to exist under the commercial radar. There are no strategic efforts behind the scenes to use this music to define the Dallas Sound. Over the years, The DOC, Nemesis, Vanilla Ice, Ron C, and my own group Decadent Dub Team all had our individual shot at putting Dallas on the map. I don't expect that the rather intellectual approach taken by Wade and his group will resonate with the idiot masses, but if it should we'll all be a little better off for it. [Alternate Take]

-Jeffrey Liles

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