There are two distinct worlds that co-exist within the hip hop universe: the underground and the mainstream. I say hip hop cause I mean not only the music, the graffiti, the DJ and even the B-Boy all have mainstream/underground counterparts. In the last decade or so mainstream hip hop has arguably departed from its very essence which made it what it was during its formative years. In part I believe this is due to the fact that hip hop as a culture has become increasingly profitable and has therefore been subject to a lot of negative influence from multinational corporations. However I also believe the audience and the way we consume things has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Now everything is designed for quick, short lived and shallow consumption. Kids nowadays are growing up with Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram which all encourage and perpetuate this idea of bite-size consumption. This has become so pervasive that it can be found in all areas of our lives today. Think about it when was the last time you read a book or even just a long article? Everything is now geared towards instant gratification; apparently good things don’t come to those who wait. In terms of hip hop music we have seen an incremental rise in Bubblegum Rap. This phenomenon has blurred the lines between pop and hip hop so much so that it has in fact created a hybrid genre “Hip-Pop”. This pseudo genre has the traditional “cool factor” associated with MCs and hip hop culture in general combined with the catchy hooks, flashy beats and the ephemerality of pop music. However this aforementioned essence has now found a home in the MPCs and rhyme books of the plethora of underground MCs and producers who continue to take hip hop to new heights while remaining true to its roots.

Constant Deviants are one such group that are still flying the flag for real hip hop. Comprised of M.I and DJ Cutt they have been making waves since the mid nineties. M.I has previously worked with famed Bad Boy records manager Mark Pitts when he was signed to major label Artista and DJ Cutt has previously worked for Roc-A-Fella Records on a range of different projects. Not to mention that Constant Deviants opened up a show in ’98 for none other than the legendary Big Pun.
So after more than a decade in the game one must ask what can we expect from their latest offering Avant Garde? In the years prior to this release they have established a distinctly golden era sound with DJ Cutt delivering expertly crafted boom bap coupled with M.I’s intermittent braggadocio which he skilfully offsets with a healthy dose of deep thought provoking rhymes. The title track Avant Garde displays all the elements that make them worth listening to. DJ Cutt provides M.I with some archetypal golden era boom bap which he uses as a backdrop to paint some vivid social imagery; “Obama leaving don’t forget to get the change from him”. Considering that M.I is an MC who’s been mastering his craft for more than a decade it should come as no surprise that this type of wordplay is commonplace throughout the album. However no track showcases his lyrical acrobatics more than M’s 4 Millennium. It’s the Constant Deviant’s answer to Papoose’s infamous Alphabetical Slaughter; rather than running down the alphabet, M.I adeptly connects his rhymes by using words beginning with the letter M: “Maniacal masked man/mess with his mind like mescaline”.
DJ Cutt’s production on the album is the very antithesis to the new pseudo genre that has been masquerading as hip hop. The vast soundscape that he creates really shows his expertise and that he remains true to the old gods Pete Rock and DJ Premier. He takes us back to a time when diggin in the crates was the primary method for obtaining great samples and sounds, rather than attempting to breathe new life into tired soundpacks downloaded using Google. The standout tracks for me are Im Still Up where he artfully juxtaposes the peaceful sound of a strumming harp with a monstrously hard hitting base drum or maybe even the guitar riff loop weaved into the head bop inducing U Know What. On the track The Right Moment Cutt gives us a master-class as he manages to seamlessly merge a Japanese Koto riff with that definitive Constant Deviants boom bap.

Once again staying true to the Golden Era, features on this album (and previous ones in fact) are kept to a minimum. M.I is certainly capable of holding down an album himself and this does deserve merit. However I think a break from his monotone would certainly be welcome. This does eventually arrive in the shape of Aye Wun (certainly someone to look out for) the sole feature on the album; who sounds like a less angry, younger Immortal Technique. His effortless flow and delivery help towards a much needed change of pace from the monotone and sometimes even lazy flow of M.I. This would probably be my main criticism of the album as a whole; I feel that M.I’s flow and delivery on this album can at times become monotonous as he pretty much maintains the same approach throughout the album. Whereas on previous albums I felt he was very reminiscent of early Noreaga and would display a wider array of his abilities, which certainly made him more enjoyable to listen to.

All in all I enjoyed the album despite the fact that I felt that M.I was weaker on this album in comparison to previous ones. If you’re a fan of Golden Era Boom Bap then I would highly recommend you listen to not only this album but the Constant Deviants discography, as this album is simply an attempt to refine the formula they have been using over the last decade.