More disheartening is underground hip-hop's lack of identity and character. A quick scan of the 12-inch-single rack at your nearest casa del rap reveals a bevy of emcees whose identities are carved out around what they are not (jiggy), not what they are. Fighting the good (?) fight has drained underground hip-hop of the creative energy that once made it great. Maybe they ought to heed America's worst rapper, DMX, and Do You -- er, do themselves, rather.
This is where the Lo-Lifes come in. One of the most entertaining crews in recent memory, the Lo-Lifes were New York's most notorious shoplifters in the '80s, their primary focus being Ralph Lauren clothing ("Lo" is short for "Polo"). After one too many trips up the river, the Lo-Lifes decided to make the switch from stealing to rapping about stealing. Starting with Thirstin Howl III's Skillionaire CD (highly recommended), their catalog is a series of clothing-heist tall tales, ghetto-comedy skits and tributes to fallen Lo-Life members only a Macy's security guard could disapprove of.
The latest Lo-Life release, Rack-Lo Rack Lauren continues the Brownsville crew's tradition of outrageous boosting boasts, confusing aliases and unhealthy obsession with Polo. Full of boisterous energy, Rack-Lo and his cronies in the Spit Squodd give underground hip-hop the swift kick in the ass it needs. Hip-hop needs a group claiming that they revolutionized the entire fashion industry. It needs an emcee obsessed with being president on a record that has skits involving horrible Ronald Reagan impressions. On songs such as "Merk" and "Richman/Poorman," Rack-Lo converts materialism to fetishism, foregoing Versace and Ice-down Rolexes for Polo soccer balls and swim caps.
Unfortunately, Rack Lauren falters beat-wise, relying too heavily on generic drum-machine taps and tracks that, though uptempo, are redundant after several listenings. Clearly this album's strength lies in the character of the emcee and his posse; the musical and thematic repetition are made up for by Rack-Lo's oddly endearing criminal character -- which brings us back to paragraph No. 1.
Where underground hip-hop has become monotonously self-righteous, Rack-Lo, his Lo-Life crew and the strange universe they live in are breathing life into a musical community choking on its own hot air.