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Date of Birth

Arsonists’ Latest Burns Hot

By Joseph Gonzalez

As with any genre, hip-hop has undergone a radical metamorphosis over the years. From its humble beginnings in the Bronx in the mid-70s to its now ever-expanding worldwide audience, hip-hop artists have changed their styles and distinctive sounds in order to push the boundaries of creativity and evolve the culture. However, there has been a slump in creativity and originality; only few acts such as Outkast and Reflection Eternal have kept the music scene interesting. With every release that comes out from a new artist, consumers take a leap of faith and gamble with their money on a potential flop. Every now and then, however, a new group comes along that blows the listeners’ minds away and forces them to recognize a radical shift in the status quo.

Two years ago, the Arsonists, a group of five hungry MCs, blew away the underground hip-hop scene with their fiery full-length debut, As the World Burns. D-story, Freestyle, Swel Boogie, Jise One, and Q-Unique came with a completely different sound than what was dominating New York airwaves. Theirs was the first album in a long time to boast a talented crew whose members radiated energy and a passion for the art form that is not generally put forth in other hip-hop releases. This group could be added to a select few who add something to the hip-hop culture with every album, as opposed to those who detract from it with mindless materialistic content. With their new release, Date of Birth, the Arsonists have been able to overcome a diminished roster as well the ever-present danger of the “sophomore slump,” a condition where established artists lose some of their hunger because they have already put out a successful album.

With Freestyle and D-story leaving the group, the Arsonists have decided to reinvent themselves and once again breathe new life into hip-hop. Their mind state entering the arena this time around is of new beginnings, and the title of their new album reflects this message. Date of Birth picks up right where the last album finished, but emerges as a more complete package. Defying the sophomore slump is a challenge to even the most gifted emcee, but for this group, it was expected. In the opening track, Q-Unique addresses the issues that have been circulating around the group, as well as taking time out to get the point of this album across “As the World Burns took to embryonic state/sonogram showed quintuplets but that was the doctor’s honest mistake/rhymes fertilized the track, initiate the transaction/Called for legal assistance to push through the contractions.” The cleverness of the group shines brightest on this album as they take us through a rollercoaster of emotions and different soundscapes that compliment their fast-paced delivery and complicated rhyme schemes.

The first full-length track on the album, “Stay Lo,” opens up abruptly after the intro and contrasts the serious tone emitted by Q-Unique in the intro, returning to the signature sound of the crew. Songs such as “What You Want,” “Burn it Out,” and “Wordplay” are classic underground anthems. Having an album under their belt has not satiated these MCs appetites for the spotlight. Taking their songs to that next level, the Arsonists parallel the art of MCing to the varied styles of martial arts in “Language Arts,” making plenty of old kung fu references. “Millionaire” pushes the envelope in originality by poking fun at the popular Regis Philbin game show, while “Bleep” edits out all forms of vulgarity in response to complaints regarding such language. “Bleep” is especially entertaining because it starts off innocently enough but takes censorship to the extreme, making fun of those who they initially came off trying to appease. “Space Junk” is an experiment in fusing hip-hop and rock and roll; unlike previous attempts by other artists, this one is actually quite enjoyable. Both genres give in a little to the other and the group makes sure that the resulting blend sounds natural to their unique delivery. Serious tracks also appear on the album to a greater extent this time around, adding substance to the total package. Tracks such as “His Hate, Her Love” (a tale of an abusive lover), “Alive” (documenting the crew’s perseverance in spite of obstacles), and “Epitaph” (a narrative of their lives as inner city kids) offer us a deeper look into the hearts of these people who have brought so much to our culture.

The production throughout the album compliments each member’s style. Unlike most artists who release albums indiscriminately, these MCs took their time (nearly two years) perfecting this CD for the masses, and it is evident that the time was well spent.

Although at times the album attains a somewhat serious tone, for the most part the playfulness and high-octane energy found in their previous release can be found once more. If anything, their sound has only improved as their production this time around sounds more finished and polished. Something that could get them more notice as well is the fact that they have included all new tracks on this release, whereas before, half of the CD was comprised of 12” singles released up to three years before the album’s release. This is a much more well-rounded product and can serve as a blueprint for future MCs. The Arsonists are the artists are responsible for bringing fun back into hip-hop.