[THROWBACK HIP-HOP] Animal Farm's key demographic is hip-hop fans who are sick of hip-hop bullshit. It's a hungry market, as evidenced by the Portland squad's formidable success on college music charts in recent years. But five tracks in to the group's new LP, Culture Shock, and the only messages Animal Farm has transmitted are that modern rap is bankrupt and things were better in the old days. Granted, the crew gets great help from hip-hop heavyweights Rob Swift and Talib Kweli as well as similarly minded locals Mic Crenshaw and DJ Wicked in underscoring this point, but eventually that message tires—listeners just want to hear something worth rooting for.
Perhaps sensing this, Animal Farm takes a distinct change in direction: "DIY," which begins with some crisp bars about the indie-rap lifestyle from the group's newest full-time member, the convincingly gruff Serge Severe ("I ain't no joker, put up my own posters/ Get it live, got drive, I'm my own chauffeur/ Heat it up, get the bread, I'm my own toaster"), stops rapping about bad rapping and lays a blueprint for how to do independent music right. And while the focus swings to and fro throughout the rest of the disc—Abstract Rude offers an especially constructive takedown of the music industry on "Music for Idiots"—its politically tinged second half casts a far wider net than its first.
While Culture Shock can be thematically single-minded, the musical balance of boom-bap bangers and soulful cuts (Hanif Wondir remains the group's secret weapon as the driving force behind imaginative hooks on tunes like "Pop Music" and "It's Over") works well, and it's hard to undersell just how much fun these four MCs have in tossing rhymes around. That's where the group practices what it preaches: Even when Animal Farm is serious, the rhyme schemes remain seriously fun. It's no wonder that these buoyant, acrobatic and decidedly old-school MCs have found success.
SEE IT: Animal Farm plays the Mount Tabor Theater on Friday, May 27, with Philly's Phunkestra, Al-One and KP. 9 pm. $10. 21+.