The Domino Effect, the slightly skewed hip-hop duo of Cue and Steve N. Clair, has been making music since 2008 and releasing albums since at least 2011. The pair most recently released TriAtomic, a collaboration EP with local Bo Dean, but Unknown puts the partners back in the middle of clacking beats, syrupy backing tracks and a few TED Talk-sounding spoken word samples.
It's a heady mix of soulful songs punctuated by the emcees' sharp-cornered verses, and the album's sense of political consciousness seems to bubble and boil over with each passing track.
We'll cop to having our interest piqued solely by the title of the album's opener, "Riverfront Times," but unless it's a super-oblique diss track to this publication, the name has little to do with the song's killer soul-jazz instrumental and spitfire verses. While much of the production favors laid-back grooves and symphonic soul, some of the album's best moments tweak the formula. The synth-y, metallic bursts and stoic piano chords play off of each other in "Cinderella Story," but the track features some of the duo's clearest-eyed statements of self-actualization. That song ends with snippets of newscasts that describe the scene from last summer's unrest in Ferguson, which collectively serve as a segue to "Ground Zero." Cue and Clair take a personal, street-level approach to the Ferguson situation and its continuing fallout, slowly morphing into both a condemnation and a rumination.
Coming in the middle of this twelve-song album, "Ground Zero" serves as the catalyst for the Domino Effect's more political material. The substance of "Problemz" is pretty surface-level -- the intro recites a list of modern worries, from disease to famine to police brutality -- but the track's popping rhythm and the overall message -- "stay woke" -- resonates. Oddly, it's the song with the most provocative title, "Black Genocide," that plays it coolest. With a spare and spacey backing track, the members of the Domino Effect discuss unjust systems and the fear of oblivion -- to "remain forever unknown." That's but one example of how Unknown smartly subverts its title; sometimes it serves as an underdog's boast, sometimes it defines the fear of eradication.
Stream the album's "Riverfront Times" track below:
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