Animal Farm, product of the hip-hop movement coming out of the Pacific Northwest, Portland in particular, are undoubtedly interested in becoming as famous as the source of their literary moniker. Animal Farm, the novel by George Orwell, offered a critique of the Communist movement and the events that culminated in World War II, albeit through a thinly veiled allegory featuring farm animals as primary characters. The group, however, pose questions just as forceful and poignant as the book they’re named for in their second album Culture Shock, although they mask nothing in allegory and are as up front about their opinions on contemporary hip-hop as an emcee is when trying to best a competitor in a freestyle battle.
Animal Farm’s Gen.Erik, Hanif Wondir, Fury, Serge Severe, and DJ Wels don’t pull any punches. Straightaway, one is able to get a sense of their whole ethos, through cuts like “Music For Idiots” featuring Abstract Rude in which the crew sing over the hook “We don’t make music for idiots/Shots from the heart so tell me if you feelin it/The radio, whatever they playing yo/Video channels ain’t even playing no freakin videos.”
A solid verse from Abstract Rude includes the relevant question “What would this world be if there were no more conscious rap songs?” Animal Farm seem ready to answer this question on the succeeding song “Pop Music,” a track with a bouncy, lush background that the squad get their “What They Do” on with and sarcastically avow the aspects of their coveted genre in which they disdain the most. Where Snowball, Napoleon, and Co. fail because of their egos, the guys of this century’s Animal Farm recognize the lure of the celebrity ID and address it. Fury’s opening bars exemplify the grind of the independent artist and the tempting benefits of mainstream appreciation: “Chilling in Lincoln Park, counting some Black Crows/Drinking on Brandy and washing it down with Sisqo/Thinking on how to get on top, this game yo/ Feeling Led Zeppelin weight and less promising than Skid Row.”
Crafty lyricism exemplifies this release by the guys from Portland, with the infectious zeal for hip-hop that’s as instantly apparent and possessive of endurance as true as that of another famous Oregonian, runner Steve Prefontaine. The Talib Kweli-assisted “Test of Time” is an album highlight and is packed with a sample laden, horn-heavy, solid beat that is indicative of the group’s sound. Other guests include Rob Swift and DJ Wicked. The group’s insistence that there be a variety of opportunities for hip hop artists in various media venues is notable but certainly echoes the concerns of many a rapper before them, making their observations less potent. Although more variety in beat-type would make this effort more refreshing, the group appears to hold a place in hip-hop’s future although unlike their name’s conceiver, they have a less dystopian, more hopeful view of the coming days for the genre despite their criticisms.