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Jazz legend Max Roach once said, "Hip hop lives in the world of sound, not the world of music..." Isle and Fanum provide ample evidence for this statement, using melodic elements only as gravy on top of meaty l..
Rubberoom: Architechnology      by DJ VERB

A lost, apocalypse-rap classic...


Here in Chicago, we are more than proud of world-renowned native sons Common and Kanye, but fools (largely journalists) want to act they're the Chi's be all-end all of hip-hop. Nearly every major city has a deep, untold hip-hop history that deserves more attention, but I feel that Chicago's has gotten particularly short shrift. Firstly, the city's status as the birthplace of house music has all but eclipsed any rep it has as a hip-hop hotbed. Secondly, the success of the aforementioned Common/Kanye (Comye?) has created a celebrity caste in Chicago hip-hop that it's never had before. Throughout the 90's, Chicago's underground hip-hop scene was arguably one of the country's most vibrant, and while we got some props at the time, history hasn't been as kind, often reducing the conversation about Chicago hip-hop to the rim-riding Kanye and Twista and the Gap-loving Common, leaving numerous deserving artists reliant on the attention of underground hip-hop rags and internet blogs. One group that I never felt got it's true due is a crew by the name of Rubberoom.

After bursting on the scene with 1995's Gothic Architecture and a handful of subsequent 12"s, MC's Meta Mo, Lumba, and SPO and producers Isle of Weight, Fanum, and Fill Spector signed to a small New York indie label called 3-2-1 and in 1999 issued their debut LP, the brilliantly-titled Architechnology; a hulking, intimidating slab of wax that leaves a trail of destruction on the eardrums of its listeners. I remember it well. At the time, there were tons of groups putting out their little records, but Rubberoom had stickers. They had promotional flats, posters. They had a budget. Surely, they were on the fast track to the big time. Call it bad karma, or maybe even a deliberate NY attempt to sabotage Chicago, but for whatever reason, the label folded only weeks after the album's release, leaving it stranded in limbo. This, combined with intra-group conflicts, signalled the end of one of Chicago's most powerful and unique groups.

One of my favorite things about this album is that it has very few obvious antecedents. The angular, "dusty but digital" sound of Company Flow had made itself known by this time, but El-P's real experimental masterstrokes, Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein and his own Fantastic Damage, wouldn't arrive until after the turn of the millennium. Seemingly taking their cues more from DJ Krush than DJ Premier, it seems as if Rubberoom were first (or at least early) on the scene with a brand of sonic chaos that El Producto would later make his stock in trade

Jazz legend Max Roach once said, "Hip hop lives in the world of sound, not the world of music, and that's why it's so revolutionary...there are many areas that fall outside the narrow Western definition of music and hip-hop is one of them." Isle and Fanum (Spector was apparently M.I.A.) provide ample evidence for this statement, using melodic elements only as gravy on top of meaty layers of harsh, visceral noises in a style I can only describe as "Apocalypse-rap." Nearly every song sounds like the aftermath of a nuclear winter, where survivors must re-create their society using only scrap metal and their own feral instincts.

"Lock Jaw," for example, layers several desolate atmospheric textures under an occasional metallic clank. "Smoke," one of the album's best tracks, is even more hectic, centered around a scratchy, aggressive cello rumble and sprinkled with icy jazz piano bits and other weird noises. Elsewhere, the beatsmiths build drama with emotional string swells, bringing a cinematic quality to their dystopian visions. "Born" could be used in a film soundtrack, were it not for the punishing drum programming, while the massive "Bleach" sounds it actually sampled some soundtrack orchestra for its impressive chorus.

But what are ill beats without ill rhymes? Fortunately, Rubberoom were as strong lyrically as they were sonically. SPO only appears on one song, but Meta and Lumba more than ably hold shit down, raising the drama level at every opportunity with intense flows and wickedly complex lyrical turns. Their dense imagery and unapologetic realness reminds me of Organized Konfusion's more aggressive outings. In Rubberoom's post-apocalyptic soundscape, Meta Mo is the booming, commanding presence who spits harangues of epic proportions, stirring the huddled masses into action. If he survives through the influence of others, then Lumba is his deceptively calm counterpoint who triumphs through sheer force of will, striking from the shadows and disappearing just as quickly.

The two carry 97% of the lyrical weight on the album, letting only a select few bless the mic alongside them. These include Thawfor (brother, where art thou?) the aforementioned SPO, Verb (no relation to the author) Path, Kenny Bogus, and the mighty J.U.I.C.E.; the latter three appear on the massive posse cut "Style Wars." Another notable aspect of Architechnology is the number of DJ's and turntablists involved. Scratch duties are handled by a veritable who's who of Chicago deckwreckers, including Stizo and Oats of Vinyl Addicts, Rude One of Single Minded Pros, battle champ DJ Precyse, PNS and Massacre of the Molemen, DJ Skar, the EPIS crew, and even club veterans Jesse De La Pena and DJ Nonstop (who also moonlights with your man DMX) Little of the scratching is central to any of the songs, nor is it particularly mind-blowing. It's more the principal of the thing, the wealth of collaborators gives a sense of this being Chicago's album, not just the Rubberoom's

Although it may have stalled out of the gate, Architechnology was later issued on Sub Verse and given some more legs. Meta, Lumba, and SPO continue to hustle around Chicago, while Fanum (now known as Mr. Echoes) and Isle christened themselves The Opus and went off on their own, pummeling eardrums with excellent instrumental efforts like 2003's Breathing Lessons on Mush. The duo continues to thrive, and there are even rumors of a Rubberoom reunion floating around Chi-Town. Even if they never enter the same studio again, we at least have this underrated, hardcore classic to enjoy; a dark, powerful work the likes of which this city rarely sees.


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