Psy2ko & Mic L. Moodswing

Blood is Thicker Than Water (AMC/Major Money Entertainment)

Backed by industry vet Terry McGill's Dallas-based Major Money Entertainment, Psy2ko and Mic L. Moodswing--the self-styled "2002 version of Pac and B.I.G."--are the latest locals to attempt a quadruple bypass of major-label heartaches, hustling to make a name for themselves (and Dallas hip-hop) with their own ink. It's a point made early and often on Blood is Thicker Than Water: "Ready to blow/Representin' Dallas for sho'/We about to bring it to the world," Mic L. Moodswing says on "Wreckshop," one of several dozen big-ups to the D-FW area on the disc's 20 tracks. (It's almost as though they believe quality and quantity are synonymous when it comes to name recognition.) And maybe Moodswing is right about the whole ready to blow/bringing it to the world thing. I mean, you could do worse than the 1-2 combination from Oak Cliff, a 21-year-old studio wizard (Psy2ko) and his 24-year-old first cousin (Moodswing), a Northwestern University-schooled aspiring screenwriter and director.

Psy2k0 and Moodswing have made the right connections to get noticed: The disc includes a guest spot by Nayrok (the younger sister of Erykah Badu), and some of Blood is Thicker Than Water was recorded at Stankonia Studios in Atlanta. (The duo also worked at Kitchen Studios and Psyk-O-Delic Studios in Dallas.) Perhaps by osmosis, the result bears a bit of the Dungeon Family's stamp, the Dirty South stomp particular to OutKast (who owns Stankonia) and ATL cronies like Goodie Mob and producers Organized Noize, though, sure, fine, OK, it's on the less experimental side of things. Meaning, you don't get the hip-hop is rock is funk is soul is country is whatever that OutKast has pounded into a popular music midsection made soft by bling-bling dingalings and gimme-gimme ghetto superstars looking to turn a ride on the bandwagon into a boom-boom room segment on MTV's Cribs. Not always. But sometimes you do: Psy2ko and Mic L. Moodswing drop a few bombs over Baghdad on songs such as "Caliente," with its Spanglish spank. Or, even better, "Groove With You," bouncing along on a rubber jackhammer beat, Temptations-sing! hook and "I like girls with no morals/Nasty girls, yes, plural" mission statement. (Like you expected the feminine mystique rather than Mystikal.)

What you do get, more often than not, is the other half of the OutKast/Dungeon Family aesthetic: pit-bull players prowling and growling, with a stripper pole in the corner and a mirror on the ceiling, dirty electronics backhanding you from the stereo. It's the 214 answer to the 404 brand of Southern hospitality, old style hugging new swagger (or the other way around), how-it-is boasts with a little more to them. And sometimes, nothing more: "You know how Texas is/Everything here's bigger/Including girls' breasts and desire to pull the trigger," they explain on "Niggaz Like Us," and you have to call time and temperature to make sure it's not actually 1995. You might have to dial that number again: "Drought" rocks the piano riff from Tears for Fears' "Shout," as well as cribbing the chorus (sort of). But look beyond the presence of That '80s Show riffs and stiffs: The song's Tears are closer to Mary J. Blige's subtle use of The Young and the Restless theme for her recent "No More Drama" single rather than another instance of karaoke cannibalism. Coulda been much worse, and this kind of thing often is: Let's just say Tupac Shakur and Bruce Hornsby go together about as well as a kick and a crotch, and Jimmy Page's acquiescence to Puff Daddy puffery marks down Led Zep's legacy to dollar-store prices.

Thankfully, save for the unnecessary skits (as essential to hip-hop releases as bar codes, apparently), the bulk of Blood is Thicker Than Water is more killer than filler, even when Psy2ko and Moodswing repeat themselves. Especially when they repeat themselves: "Superman" shows up two times, and both save the day in their own way. With its church-bell clatter and synth squeals, the so-called "da original mix" is full of interesting ideas, especially the Afrobeat percussion that opens the door on the song only to slam it shut later. (Think Fela Kuti worked over by The Neptunes, then just stop.) The remix, then, is the rare redo that turns out less interesting musically, yet it's worth it and then some for Nayrok's cameo, a sing-speak drop-in that holds up the family name. That said, Blood is Thicker Than Water doesn't need to rely on stunt casting; thanks to the cousins' preference for OutKast's absinthe rather than MTV's Cristal, the script is strong enough by itself.

 
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