Nobody beats the Wiz
Load Zone Central Recordings
The first voice you hear on Add On!, Ghetto Fame-Us' debut album, is that of KNON-FM DJ EZ Eddie D, the mellower than yellow host of the area's only underground hip-hop show, Knowledge Dropped, Lessons Taught. His presence here is appropriate, like a proud father cheering on his son from the sidelines. After all, without him, Dallas hip-hop would have withered away a long time ago, a victim of too much fertilizer and not enough sunshine. But as Eddie D is fond of pointing out, it's always been the bands that make his show, not the other way around. Add On! is a prime example of this, brimming with enough talent and depth to fill one of Eddie D's Saturday-afternoon shows by itself, and more styles than the hip-hop compilation KNON released last year. The tracks bounce from spooky and spare ("Eight Bars") to underground symphonies ("Won't Change"), anchored by Wiz and Dread's tag-team vocals. Ghetto Fame-Us' two-man foundation is proof enough that some things grow stronger when no one is paying attention.
In fact, it's almost as if Wiz and Dread thrive on neglect, the boulder on their shoulders fueling their rhymes, turning every word into a scowl. They spit out their lyrics, daring someone, anyone, to challenge them, their boldness coming from knowing no one will. "It's all about respect / Yo, and since we gotta take it / I'ma take your rep and respect across the world naked," Dread barks on "Stand Tall," the words rushing out of his mouth three at a time. A self-confident rant against inferior MCs, "Stand Tall" is nudged along by the late Tupac Shakur's voice (a sample snatched from his 1992 acting debut, Juice), urging offenders to "Stand tall, stick your chest out, boy, and be a man!" Strings hang in the background like smog, lingering over an insistent funk guitar lick and a barely there piano, the music acting as a calm for the storm provided by Wiz, Dread, and guest MC The Legendary Fritz, whose cameo proves once again he's among the most inventive lyricists here or anywhere.
But as good as Wiz and Dread are when they're angry, they're even better when they're reserved, almost detached. One of the best songs on Add On! is a track that doesn't fully reveal itself right away, catching you by surprise the second or third time around. At first, "Black Love is Black Power" seems to rescue hip-hop love songs from LL Cool J's oversexed hands, until the piercing strings and whispered chorus ("Black love is black power / Black love lives until my final resting hour") sneak up on you. They turn a sweet love song ("The Greeks call you Isis / What I see is quite priceless") into a track that could have been penned by a convicted stalker, writing the lyrics by the slotted light of a jail cell. Like the rest of the album, it doesn't ask for your attention. It demands it.
Get the Music Newsletter