Rasco : Hostile Environment

Fierce political consciousness and inventive beats make this pretty damn essential...

An intense Bay Area rapper who calls himself Cali Agent Number One, Rasco has already garnered a healthy reputation for himself on the hiphop underground through a prolific output. With a grain of voice not dissimilar to Rakim’s, except possibly heavier, his second full album combines a sharp political output with slice-of-life observations that put his mostly segregated environment into perspective.

He uses hiphop as a means to communicate with wrong-headed people, and a way to re-introduce a form of morality to people rendered wild and crazy by the conditions they live in. He also exposes systematic racism and the contradictions and double standards of the dominant American culture, as filtered through the media or otherwise.

The beats are well-crafted and inventive, as Khalil, J Rawls and others fashion tracks packed with haunting keyboard loops, an almost avant-garde approach to sound manipulation, and an overall feel that remains as accessible as anything on a high-budget major label’s roster. It’s this atmosphere, in which the listener accepts near-hallucinatory samples as normal, that gives a boss cut like ‘Gunz Still Hot Remix’ a high degree of menace.

Rasco isn’t totally serious all the time, in a way that would perhaps become oppressive, and ‘The Jamm’ is a straight-ahead dancefloor filler with a cool groove, whilst ‘Message From The Bottle’ definitely finds a novel way to convey an anti-drink-and-drive message. And when he muses on the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood on ‘Sunshine (Ayanna)’, dedicated to his newborn daughter, well he does the opposite of what the average roughneck would be tempted to do.

The main theme here, though, is reality, however extreme. And the fierce gun talk is a serious product of an urban American environment, as much as a battle-rap metaphor. Rasco doesn’t need to bite his tongue.

Dele Fadele