In a time where hip hop has become America’s mainstream, pop music, Hell’s Kitchen’s seasoned beat-makers, Ming and FS are out to redefine the genre with their new full-length release “Back to One.” Their approach to reclaiming the field: “returning to the roots and listening to the streets.” Not that the duo’s latest offering can be strictly categorized within a single genre, but even amidst the record’s arsenal of head-bobbin’breakbeats, drum n’ bass hooks, and street smart beatboxin’, there is no denying that the skillful lyrical assaults featured on some of the album’s tracks are rooted in the old school of hip hop—where lyrical abilities, not flashing platinum, is the standard by which the artist is measured.
From the start, “Back to One” unveils a diverse canvas of beats that serve as the bedrock on which the album’s guest MC, Cincinnati’s own, Napoleon draws an onslaught of streetwise images which he skillfully paints with his tight rhymes. While the album opens up with the dubbed-out, seamless blend of moods and tempo changes that is “Fish Eyes,” by track two, the title record “Back to One” lays out the first of an array of intelligent street poetry offerings that rate far above what too often passes as true hip hop. With rhythmic change ups and versatile sound effects that at times fool you into believing you are listening to a handful of songs within one, the glue that pastes the title track’s diverse sounds together is the sampling of Napoleon’s vocals like: “Don’t you just miss those childhood games?” As the song’s handful of lyrics unfold, Napoleon’s voice echoes in the background counting down from 6, and “back to one.” “The track is representative of our efforts to have this album reflect the true meaning of hip hop,” said Ming. “The idea was to represent street rhymin’, bring the music back to the struggle of the streets, the struggle of the everyday man.”
The theme continues to be represented on the disc’s fourth offering, “Slang Verb,” where Napoleon compliment’s Ming and FS’ dark, haunting melody and swiftly rides the track’s jagged, bass-ridden, broken beats, quickly differentiating himself from the rest of the pack. With the confidence that only true talent affords, Napoleon is quick to dare his inferior’s to “search with an infrared beam” because they “still won’t find him,” his style “so out of sight,” while others “copy-style and he constructs poetry, moving with speed and grace agility.” The combination of the track’s gloomy mood and Napoleon’s “Slang Verbs” proves to be one of the album’s best, perfectly coupling progressive Manhattan–influenced beats with wicked, bullet proof rhymes.
“Napoleon has so much to offer,” confessed Ming from the duo’s Manhattan studio as we casually chatted over the phone. “We just dropped this beat for him and he started to spit out lyrics. He is a classic MC who brings the lyrics like we bring the beats.” “Skills and Grace” is the perfect example of the trio’s chemistry at work, as they dish it out in top form with Napoleon unloading the whole clip on fake MCs who “misrepresent hip hop,” warning them that “when they see who I am they’ll know who you not, you’re basically a little rascal with a nose full of snot!” The rhymes are tastefully complimented with some free style scratching over Ming and FS’ hard knock beats—truly a combination of skill and grace.
Perhaps the album’s best track, “Big Little Jeffrey” features Ming and FS dishing out a combination of jungle beats and breaks, topped with the infectious vocal hooks of a little boy named Aaron. For those who have followed Ming and FS from their early days of drum n’ bass releases on the now defunct but notoriously innovative, Manhattan label, Jungle Sky, “Big Little Jeffrey” will momentarily take you back to the days where the duo focused on producing more jungle oriented tracks. “Big Little Jeffrey,” however, cannot be neatly classified as a drum n ‘ bass track. In fact, it is really a track all on to its own. Ming and FS’ switching tempo switch ups and sampling of a little boy rapping brings a fresh vibe to the track that is unique from the album’s other ten cuts. As the beats switch from one hook to another, little Aaron can be heard rapping: “Do it like this, do like that, yeah, uh huh, make you feel good . . . this one is for all the homies.”
“So why is the track called Big Little Jeffrey,” I asked Ming as we talked about the process of producing the track, “One of our boys here in the studio, his name is Jeffrey, and his little brother is Aaron—we call him big little Jeffrey because he reminds us of his brother. We thought it would be a cool idea to sample this little boy rapping and dropping it over some beats. I would call it classic Ming & FS.” But it should come as no surprise that Ming and FS would use the talents of a little boy on one of their tracks: “The things that matter in life are family, friends, art and music,” said Ming “we thought it would be a good idea to reflect that on the track.” The duo are not just all talk, however, they are currently gearing up to tour the United States to promote not only their music, but also their message.
“The tour is about the music and the message, it affords us the position of being on stage and connect with young people who we encourage to become active. This country badly needs a different point of view other than the media’s! As New Yorkers, we should stand up and question our government’s unwise choices like the war in Iraq; it is not unpatriotic to do this!” As my conversation with Ming neared a conclusion, he elaborated: “A real measure of quality of life is determined by environmental wealth, and we are now living in a virtual dictatorship that cares zero about it. Political activism is important because for a democracy to prosper, it is necessary that an alternative message like ours reach the public. Political activism protects our fundamental rights of expression, something which this administration is determined to diminish. This is one of the reasons why it is important to spread the message through our music, why it is so important to go out and vote.”
With the release of Ming and FS’ new album “Back to One” in early August, and their upcoming Fall tour, the different point of view is on its way to your town, so pay attention, because in Napoleon’s own words, their show will be one “you’ll be pissed to miss!”
01. Fish Eyes
02. Back to One feat. Napoleon Solo
03. 50FT Mole Man
04. Slang Verbs feat. Napoleon Solo
05. Starts Somewhere feat. Napoleon Solo
07. Big Little Jeffrey
08. Skills and Grace feat. Napoleon Solo
09. Chester Goes to Town
10. 2092 feat. Napoleon Solo
11. Nadia feat. DK