The members of K-Otix claim that these two platters -- the products of a hiatus between MCs Mic and Damien and their producer the ARE -- are merely hour-long musical pacifiers designed to tide their fans over until they properly follow up last year's group effort, Universal. Don't let that disclaimer diminish their impact. The Black Album and K-Otix Entertainment Presents the ARE: Hustler's Theme knock you on your ass with a relentless, unfiltered vitality you don't often get from Houston rap crews.
In fact, it's still hard to believe K-Otix is from Houston. The group's exceptional production values and aggressive lyrical verve are enough to make a man question the diligence and dedication of many of their local competitors. Is anybody else out there even trying to sound original?
But this work ethic and attention to detail is a double-edged sword. Many believe that the professionalism of K-Otix masks a certain weeniness, not to mention treason against its hometown. But anyone who thinks K-Otix sounds too different to be real Space City G's should listen to The Black Album, a "double EP" that gives MCs Big Money Mic and Damien (who takes the ARE's place as producer nearly throughout) seven tracks each to showcase their expertise.
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The aesthetic gulf between the two MCs is fairly astonishing. Mic is the born playa who fiercely sets his lyrical boasts against woolly, raucous horns when he isn't rolling up on the gals and allowing them to bask in his sweet nothings. Along the way, he manages to pull off that much-theorized, seldom-realized concept known as ghetto panache. At the other extreme, Damien is the rabid warrior who drops every verse as though daring you to question his motives. On "R.N.T.M.," his most powerful track, he ends the song with a hilarious verbal bitch-slapping of all less skilled, uneducated MCs -- from "hitmakers who ain't shit without the Neptunes" to "niggas wearing Band-Aids as a fashion statement."
Still, this odd couple manages to unite when appropriate, as on the album's finale -- a bonus track -- where they serve up one last groove-tripping fuck-you to a low-level detractor. On The Black Album, Mic and D don't just shake the haters off -- they hack off their limbs, dump the torsos in the bayou and bury the scraps in a field.
While Mic and D show how incendiary they can be even when they're not being destructive together, DJ-producer the ARE establishes himself as the go-to beat man for all thug rappers who would have their tales of ghetto survival done just right. With a stable of practiced MCs (including his K-Otix colleagues) dropping verses over his pulpy, hard-driving samples, the ARE is a viable contender to the throne of Gulf Coast Dr. Dre. Just like Dre's, the ARE's standout tracks show that songs about the game, the hustle, the street life or whatever you wanna call it can still be done in a vibrant and virtuous manner. "No Way No How" crackles with edgy guitar echoes as guest vocalist Truth Enola spits just the right balance of cynicism and hope. And "The Exchange," featuring the Lone Catalysts' J. Sands, is perhaps the funkiest tale of inner-city criminal seduction since Boogie Down Productions' "Love's Gonna Get'cha."
With Hustler's Theme, the ARE barks louder than his verbal partners -- without so much as opening his mouth. Not that the wordplay of Mic and D should be slept on. The ARE just proves that the beats can drive home the message just as much as the words -- and that the best hustlers are the ones who know when to keep quiet and let the work speak for itself.