What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the term ‘rap/rock hybrid’? Half-baked, half-assed, and poorly conceived? Coincidentally similar terminology has been used to describe mashups and the ratio of genuinely good genre-blending amalgamations to detritus and doo-doo is close to violating the definition of a fraction. On December 25th Reef The Lost Cauze released Reef The Lost Cauze is Dead for free on Bandcamp, effectively combining hip-hop and rock while shooting the figurative gift in the process.
Reef along with producer Caliph-NOW handpicked hits from U2, Lykke Li, The Specials, Gorillaz, Pink Floyd, and a host of others and reinterpreted them with a fresh perspective, covers these are not. Caliph-NOW does a fantastic job rearranging and augmenting the original tracks for Reef to get his spit on, and generally Reef’s steez is more honest, humorous, and sarcastic than his usual barely-restrained menace honed from his days as a battle rapper. Unlike a George Foreman grill, he hasn’t squashed the beef completely, however. “Like A Shotgun” is a flip of Lykke Li’s “Get Some” and Reef plays out a scenario of encountering some enemies and cleverly incorporates the chorus of the original into his own tale of reckoning.
Peter Bjorn and John’s “Nothing to Worry About” gets the Lost Cauze and Caliph-NOW treatment in the form of “No Worries.” It’s an incredibly catchy track and it’s made all the better by a kind of positive cognitive dissonance that’s emblematic of RTLCID as a whole. From verse to chorus and back again the listener is lulled into the comfort zone of thinking that songs are going one direction only to be jolted back the other way by Reef’s rhymes or the chorus and bridge elements of the original composition. Reef touches on a number of issues close to his heart on the album, bluntly and openly talking about relationships, insecurities, and angst about the uber-commodified state of music in general. The gentrification of his hometown Philly appears in the crosshairs on what might be the best song on the album, “Ghost Town.” The basis of the canvas Reef paints his picture with is borrowed from The Specials’ song of the same name, popularized by the movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Why nobody else had this idea first is beyond comprehension, it’s obvious, as The Specials’ song lends itself quite easily to any emcee with an urge to rap over it. Reef laments the invasion of hipsters and suburbanites, imminent domain, and the fact that “wherever there’s pain and strife and treason and trouble, in twenty years the property value is gonna double.”
Reef gets major points for fearlessly making Reef The Lost Cauze Is Dead true to his creative vision without regard for what people expect from an artist with his track record. It was a brave move on his part that could have been dead in the water. Not every artist can successfully go left when everyone expects them to go right and continue to deliver material that helped them cultivate a fanbase in the first place, just ask Common. RTLCID may throw heads for a loop, but at the end of the day Reef has expanded horizons–his own and those of hip-hop–without putting out product that sounds like a train wreck or compromising the integrity of either genre.
– T. Love