While there’s still a large underground network of hip-hop artists producing amazing music, I sometimes miss the sound of nineties indie rap. The obscure samples and grainy beats that served as background for rappers with unconventional (and often without tough guy) voices talking about whatever came to their minds. At some point in the last decade, a few of these aesthetics were adopted by mainstream rappers and the sound became a rarity.
The first thing I noticed about Husky, the debut album by Emfasis, is an approach and finished product that could have come out 15 years ago courtesy of Rawkus, Rhymesayers or Def Jux without seeming retro. In these bassy and trappadelic times we’re living in, it’s a breath of fresh air. The sound this duo possess is inspiring and well-rounded, not to mention original.
Emfasis hail from Monterrey, the Mexican city that almost two decades ago was the music capital of the country, thanks in no small part to hip-hop. Control Machete came out blazing with an amazing sound and attitude, and kicked open the door for many MCs and producers to make their mark. Unfortunately, like many scenes before, overexposure caused more demand than product, yielding subpar imitations. Ever since (rampant narco violence being another major factor) La Avanzada Regia fizzled out and its strong hip-hop scene got reduced away from the spotlight.
Emfasis are not the only rappers coming out of “la sultana del norte” with dope beats and verbal skills in the last couple of years, but they are one of the best outfits. MCs Alan “Deztwo” García and Kevin Thompson share production and lyrical credits on Husky, making a chill sound with their beats and their easy-going, free-associating rhymes, sometimes flowing seamlessly from Spanish to English and back again. In fact, “flow” (free of MC skills connotation) is a very accurate word to describe Husky.
“Beefy” has all the elements in place, a suave backpack-anthem that has the rappers dropping slacker science without breaking a sweat. Indie rap production is not the only sound used by the duo. “Astros” features R&B diva vocals to give us a track typical of nineties hip-hop records, all smooth sounds and erotic ambience while “Husky,” featuring production by Sick Masta, has a more contemporary vibe. “IL” is the most ambitious track, featuring intricate layers of samples while the duo delivers some low-key words before a sample of a screaming female comes out of the background; moments later, Lykke Li’s child-like voice is borrowed before picking up speed just to return to the slower pace it began with. It’s a track that evolves through sampling– a highlight and display of the combo’s power.
Husky is the rare beast of an album that takes sounds from a seldom-remembered past (at least not by the majority) to make an ambitious statement in disguise. For all its lysergic, red-eyed presentation, Emfasis know they have talent and they are willing to make great music with it; a statement that would make any seminal backpacker proud.