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2Mex - Sweat Lodge Infinite

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Artist: 2Mex

Album: Sweat Lodge Infinite

Label: Temporary Whatever

Review date: Mar. 9, 2004

Alejandro Ocana must think in polysyllabic rhyme. The Los Angeles hip hop artist known as 2Mex spouts complex lines of verse as naturally as if he were breathing and his freestyle during live shows defines the ease with which he slides the world’s tensions and issues into narrow caverns of rhyme and repetition.

The 30-year-old Ocana has been creating his whirlwind of in-your-face linguistic wordplay for several years with his Southern California crews, with last fall’s Sweat Lodge Infinite clocking in as his third solo album. With allegiance pledged to Of Mexican Descent, Visionaries, Sungodsun, Afterlife, Project Blowed, and the Shapeshifters, 2Mex has a list of guest appearances and collaborations that puts just about anyone to shame.

A high volume of diverse appearances lends itself to keeping 2Mex’s style mutable and oddball, with tracks that run the gamut from traditionally produced sample-based cuts, to the experimental production merging with spoken word performances in solo albums and with the amorphous crew Shapeshifters. Oddities abound in his back catalogue as well; he runs through the entire alphabet line by line in the infamous “Audible Angels” and writes a whole song with “m” words in “M is for Memo.” His 2000 debut Words Knot Music is a hip hop/spoken word album performed with no music or beats. What remains the same in all these creative outlets is a fetish for alliteration and in-rhymes that has as much in common with early phonetic vocals musicians such as Spike Jones and his City Slickers and spoken word artists such as Saul Williams as it does with underground hip hop.

Sweat Lodge Infinite is a strong outing for 2Mex, if not his strongest. The beats produced by Darkleaf crew member Longevity are dark and raw, bulging with dissonant sound effects that complement 2Mex’s harsh delivery and intensity, so much so, that appearances by 2Mex’s L.A. associations, including the odd Liferexall and casual Awol One from Shapeshifters, and Kemit and Mark 3:23 from Darkleaf, seem out of place. The various emcee deliveries and personalities jar with Longevity’s angry production and sometimes fall flat (“M.A.S.H.” is the biggest disappointment). Other moments do hit the right mix, fortunately, on a disc full of guest appearances. Longevity resurrects and distorts a Run DMC beat for Project Blowed’s Aceyalone and 2Mex on one of the album’s most exciting tracks, the old school style “3 or 13” (which, according to 2Mex is “the sum of what a two and an ace is”). Longevity also scores points for the bouncy beat on “Copy That” that’s sure to have b-boys spinning like tops.

But despite the cohesive production, 2Mex’s style can push the listener away. The essential 2001 release B-Boys in Occupied Mexico established 2Mex’s reputation for representing the Latino community and the hip-hop subculture of Los Angeles, yet when diatribes against society appear on Sweat Lodge, they are significantly less charged and intense than what he has proved capable of. Allusions to himself as “Cesar Chavez” on “3 or 13” are more confusing than inspiring. Is the rapper a poet, philosopher, or social advocate? Much of the substance of these verses comes off as half-baked philosophy, or straddles the line between clever and oblique braggadocio.

This lack of clarity forces the listener to sort out not only the verbal intricacies of the lyrics but the apparent lack of meaning behind them. The connections are clever, but some seem so stretched to fit patterns that non-sequiturs abound (A typical moment: “The sage of the new oxygen / The rage of the blue hawk begins”). The lynchpin track that will cause some to cheer and others to groan is “Seconds Ago,” a relentless assault that attempts to characterize the smothering effects of society (“Officer narcissist / Beat off your accomplices”) but riffs more on its clever rhymes than on the subject matter at hand (“Loose leaf passages / Loose leaf passing messages / The message is / Become who you are”). The chorus is as clever and complex as its verses, delivered by Darkleaf in a perfect basso: “Beware of the storm when it drops / Analyze the form and how it’s rocked” and variations thereof.

2Mex’s driving voice saves the record from becoming unpassionately virtuosic, since the same intensity that squeezes drops of sweat from his brow during live performances carries over onto the record. You may well end up believing the shadows of meaning he casts when you hear the focus and grit behind their creation.. In careful doses, Sweat Lodge Infinite is a baffling and intelligent look at how a modern poet indulges in the spoken music of the English language.

By Joel Calahan

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