Never Been in a Riot


Drive east past Vallejo through the golden Northern California hills and you descend into Fairfield, a highway town between Bay Area and Sacramento sprawl. It’s the kind of place you move to when homicide rates hit 200 and median housing prices push $500K. You don’t know if you’re upwardly or downwardly mobile until it’s already happened. The Federation, a crew assembled at the Solano Mall, stages an anti-cop riot in downtown Fairfield on one of The Album‘s skits, and it’s comic because it could never happen. If New York is a red state in the hip-hop nation and the Dirty South is blue, here is rap’s stylistic Ohio.

Hit-making producer Rick Rock borrows from the best—Larry Smith’s stabs, Kraftwerk’s breath control, RZA’s stuttering strings, Timbaland-brand guitar throbs and hollow-point kicks, vintage A-Dog bassbombs. Then he drops something like “Go Dumb,” which doesn’t just lean back or get tipsy, but destroys three decades of progress in four minutes of frenzy. The cartoon sirens, Pacman-chomping chants, and collar-popping singsong of “Hyphy”—last winter’s dance craze for the white-T-and-Nike troops—sound as if Drexciya, Tha Click, and Willie Wonka’s Oompa-Loompa Army had their blood centrifuged in a single test tube. “Go to Work” is half ’80s throwback—nice-and-wild Miami freestyle bell-ringing, metal-on-metal drumming, and Pumpkin-busting old-school synths—and half post-gangsta futurism. “Shake your perm, you’s a rockstar”? The next shit has to be Dave Chappelle-disorienting.

Beyond an overfamiliar millennial B-boy stance—”I remember Tupac used to sing to me,” Mr. Stres raps, “he had me feeling like strapped was the thing to be”—the Feds aren’t sure who they are yet. They try out lines from underachievers like the Clipse and J-Kwon, overachievers like Kanye and Lil Jon. They start “Ghetto Love Song” like an answer to Jill Scott’s “The Fact Is (I Need You)” before giving up relationship jokes involving Maury Povich, and follow with “In Love With a Hoodrat,” an ode to crack fiends, and “Donkey,” a bray to ass. On “Mayhem,” they compare themselves to Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, at a hysterical pitch: “If I was a white guy I would be a rocker, but I am a black guy so I am a rapper.” In the hip-hop nation’s flyover country—that colorless area nobody seems to understand—that one-liner approaches solid truth.