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Kidz in the Hall - The In Crowd

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Artist: Kidz in the Hall

Album: The In Crowd

Label: Duck Down

Review date: Jul. 11, 2008

Despite boasting a catalog of prolific artists, New York’s Duck Down Records has largely slipped from the public eye. Records by mid-’90s hardcore rap groups Boot Camp Clik, Heltah Skeltah and Smif n Wessun were early high watermarks that have been unattainable in the aughties: the re-releases of Boot Camp Clik’s For the People and Black Moon’s War Zone were just grasps toward a brighter past. This year just might be different, though. Work by still-rising star 9th Wonder and indefatigable label head Buckshot (The Formula,), and a future sophomore drop from Sean Price and Buckshot collaboration with KRS-One are pillars in a release slate that seems poised to draw attention back to the 14-year-old label.

Newcomers to the party are Chicago/New Jersey duo Kidz in the Hall, who landed a Duck Down deal last fall. Their Rawkus debut featured some flashes of brilliance, and yet it was more mature demos of Double-O’s production that attracted Buckshot to sign off on their newest disc. Whether they deliver a fresh sound to the Duck Down roster is debatable. Their debut single was a 2006 retread of the classic Souls of Mischief groover “’93 Til Infinity” using the same backing sample with lyrics playing off the original’s. Their new album, The In Crowd, follows this same path. In a way, its merely reinforces the idea that Duck Down can’t let go of the past.

Old-school revivalism, however, is no innocent trade these days. The Kidz’ new single “Drivin’ Down the Block (Low End Theory)” has landed them in the middle of a furious back-and-forth over the pros and cons of “hipster rap,” an amorphous term meant to describe the kitsch-driven revival of old-school hip hop. Groups like the Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Jay Electronica, even Chicago hitmakers Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West, all have been found to participate in some level of revivalism, whether it’s beats, vocal style, lyrics, clothes or attitude. And whether you just process chorus vocals with a vocoder or jock golden-era style full bore, you’re a target for the mainstream.

On The In Crowd, DJ Double-O dips into his East Coast roots, from Native Tongues to Eric B. and Rakim to Masta Ace. Though he comes off as a connoisseur of various styles, soul is a mainstay (“Lucifer’s Joyride” opens with a parade of dedications to Jimi Hendrix, Rick James and James Brown). He drops low end theory and Pete Rock-style horn licks on “Black Out” and “Snob Hop.” “Let Your Hair Down” and “Love Hangover” sample slow ballads. “The Pledge” and “Mr. Alladatshit” share an identical flipped-up Philly International strings sample. O captures some summer hotness that feels classic without overly pushing the hipster label. For my money, these original production chops – reinventions of classic samples – are where the Kidz escape the “hipster rap” gauntlet intact.

On the mic end, MC Naledge has a comfortable flow reminiscent of a more polished Kanye, but his lyrics on The In Crowd are less than remarkable. When he holds the fort himself, like on the confessional solo joint “Inner Me,” the emotion is palpable but the lyrics, which vacillate between despair and self-righteousness, don’t hold the same sway. The chorus is anticlimactic at best: “Sometimes I feel like my inner me / is my enemy / and it just might serve to be / the end of me / ‘cause I don’t have the energy.” The worst offense is a tendency to overreach on simple similes, like on “The Pledge”: “I get a chance to blow / but now you see I blew / like a runny nose / in a thick tissue”. Lyrical spinnbarkeit notwithstanding, this Duck Down posse cut with Buckshot and Sean Price is the most mature and even on the album. No coincidence, Naledge fires off his most impressive lyrics here and on the Phonte-featured "Paper Trail.”

If you take them seriously, the charges of living in the past could stick on joints like "Black Out" and "Drivin' Down the Block.” You could even take the Kidz as a novelty act, since they’ve always showed a penchant for the nod and wink revivalism. But the “hipster” label indicts intentions, and playing intention-guessing is grasping at straws. Naledge can get self-righteous in spots, but you can sense the untainted fun on the video for "Drivin' Down the Block.” Since when did irony become intrinsically arrogant?

By Joel Calahan

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