A decade ago, the hip-hop sounds of Los Angeles were sirens and semiautomatics,
the city’s danger and spiritual desolation conveyed musically through the belligerence of artists like N.W.A. and Ice-T (who put it best: “We didn’t go to parties. We robbed parties”). Yet amidst the crossfire was a sea of relative calm—the Good Life, a South Central café where the open mic nights became a haven for local youth tired of the nihilism. Of that camp, it’s the Freestyle Fellowship who fashioned bold new stylistic boundaries for the genre.
To Whom It May Concern is an elusive document—the Holy Grail of underground hip-hop. Its initial 1991 run of 500
cassettes and 300 vinyl LPs is a faint memory; rather, its legacy depends on generation upon generation of dubbed copies passed along like gifts. Now on CD for the first time,
To Whom stakes its claim as the blueprint for not only the L.A. independent scene, but for those of the Bay Area and New York as well. The nonlinear narratives of Aceyalone, Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E., and Self Jupiter took cues from improvised jazz and scat cadences, creating rapid-fire tales of transglobal transcendence and cultural affirmation that spurned the era’s prevailing antivalues.
On “7th Seal” Mikah 9 warns
of “schemes of global subjugation”; on “Legal Alien,” J. Sumbi invokes black science fiction, railing against those who “call me a trespasser.
I was first on the planet, but now I’m last on the poles of progress.”
In their quest to “take
rap music to its threshold of enlightenment,” the Fellowship fell on many deaf ears, yet
their vision is still heard today re-imagined in the progressive sounds of groups like Company Flow and Styles of Beyond. Be advised.
Beats and Rhymes, 6230 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1108, L.A., CA 90048
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 1999