True to their name, on their highly anticipated self-titled debut, rap trio Random Axe, i.e. Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Sean Price, have an axe to grind. The trajectory of said axe: somewhere in the direction of rap foes, peons, womenfolk, disrespecters, and those that should’ve heeded the demand to give up the cash when asked. Black Milk, fresh off 2010’s acclaimed Album of the Year, and Stones Throw rhymesayer Simpson rep Detroit and Price, of Brooklyn’s Boot Camp Clik and Heltah Skeltah, put their cities and rap rings together Wonder Twins-style to mete out aggressive rhymes over fascinating beats that suggest they’d put in a bid for hardest rap triumvirate on the hardcore scene.
Random Axe politic about street life and dreams of semi-opulence over attractive Black Milk-produced beats in a straightforward, brash manner. They trade bars and witticisms that recall the kind of taunting one would find as a kid: finger pointing, raucous-laughing, I’m bigger than you so what can you do-kinda stuff. On “Never Back Down,” Guilty Simpson raps: “Who gives a fuck who your hero is/I’ll give that nigga a nice view of himself where he can see both lids.” See? And there’s a litany of Sean Price punchlines to this effect. On “Monster Babies” he goes: “Niggas say you a fool Ruckus/Sniff coke and punch niggas through school buses.” He spews on the bouncy, glittering “The Karate Kid” this: “My right hook’ll give you a large dent/On the side of your face for fuckin with Clark Kent” then “Ill shit son, what the shotty did/Leg broke, Will Smith son the Karate Kid.”
Black Milk’s production is probably the most positive (feeling-wise) attribute of the album, even though the beats are moody, dark, and gritty. The soul samples are latent; he makes interesting use of ethereal sounds, church claps, and skewed vocal sound bites. The outros are almost always captivating. The drums are crisp and arranged in a way that’s complimentary to all three emcees’ cadences and respective deliveries. There are features by Fat Ray, Roc Marciano, Melanie Rutherford, Danny Brown, Fatt Father, Detroit’s Trick Trick, and Heltah Skeltah’s Rock, and they add to their respective songs in a way that ups the vibe Random Axe are going for. Yet, the songs work best when they’re a claustrophobic three-man affair.
On the rallying-call cut “Random Call,” Price summarizes the content on Random Axe: “No love letter rhymes and raps about chicks/Just a whole lotta druggin and thuggin–that’s it.” Random Axe don’t break the mold on this album, but they are sure to make stalwart fans of each individual rapper happy with a release that’s thematically consistent if not repetitive and evocative of the three’s surefire chemistry. The axe? Sharpened and on the grind with these guys.