Smile Politely

Strong Arm Steady (and Madlib): In Search of Stoney Jackson

What happens when you supply the gritty San Diego crew Strong Arm Steady with nearly 200 spare beats from Madlib Tha Beat Konducta, a blunt-smoking, producer/genius out of Stonesthrow Records? The answer—two wide-eyed emcees ransacking the instrumentals like kids to a candy store.

J Rocc, DJ and member of the World Famous Beat Junkies who’s also a friend to Madlib, gave the group a massive collection of beats arranged by the California producer. Strong Arm Steady members then narrowed the instrumental package down to 18 colorful tracks and ended with a solid LP.

The album concept humorously questions the current whereabouts of actor/dancer Stoney Jackson, who once appeared on shows such as 227 and The White Shadow. Jackson also worked as a dancer in Michael Jackson’s 1983 video, “Beat It,” though the two aren’t related. The vivid artwork for the LP cover, designed by London based artist Lewis Heriz, is a trippy, anonymous portrait that implies the “jerry curl” worn by the unheard of entertainer in one of his more well known photos.

Strong Arm Steady, once an 8-member crew that included Xzibit at its conception, has slimmed its personnel to three emcees with two featured prominently here—Krondon and Phil Da Agony. Their usual third member, Mitchy Slick, is only heard on two tracks throughout the LP. The guestlist is heavy with features from west coast emcees including Evidence of Dilated Peoples, Planet Asia, Fashawn, and Madlib’s younger brother, Oh No-also signed to Stonesthrow. Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson, North Carolina rapper/singer Phonte Coleman and Brooklyn native Talib Kweli make additional appearances.

Madlib’s production keeps to its classic format of crunchy soul samples, unusual vocal clips and popping drums compressed at a high ratio to give the pulsing effect unique to Tha Beat Konducta sound. The producer’s past projects include the Madvillainy collaboration with MF Doom and the acclaimed alter-ego project The Unseen, working as the imaginary Quasimoto.

Madlib’s known ability to bring out the intensity in the rap artists he works with is very evident throughout In Search Of Stoney Jackson. Strong Arm Steady, traditionally mediocre emcees, sound better than ever over Beat Konducta instrumentals, and bring all the right featuring emcees.

“Best of Times” is a joyful intro track displaying Phonte’s multi-talented package as a singing emcee. Other notable tracks include the posse track “True Champs” and the bass heavy “Ambassadors,” bound to take your subwoofers for an exercise run. Lyrically, the most interesting track to listen to is “Chitlins & Pepsi”, an ode to the earthy, healthy-living girlfriend who makes a change in her boyfriend’s lifestyle.

In a connection that underground hip hop heads have anticipated for some time, Strong Arm Steady comes as best as they can lyrically with typical boastful rhymes on loyalty to the music, love and good times. But Madlib’s work as a beatsmith, as well as some choice features, make this a must-grab.

Troy Brundidge is in his third year as the host of Beats & Rhymes which airs Fridays on 107.1 FM at 10 p.m.

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