by Steve Huey
Featuring material recorded over 1994-1997, Company Flow's official full-length debut, Funcrusher Plus, had a galvanizing effect on the underground hip-hop scene. It was one of the artiest, most abstract hip-hop albums ever recorded, paving the way for a new brand of avant-garde experimentalism that blatantly defied commercial considerations. Musically and lyrically, Funcrusher Plus is abrasive and confrontational, informed by left-wing politics and the punked-out battle cry "independent as f*ck." It's intentionally not funky and certainly not danceable; the beats are tense and jagged, and often spaced far apart to leave room for the MCs' complex rhymes.
's lyrical technique is so good it's sometimes nearly impenetrable, assaulting the listener with dense barrages of words that take a few listens to decipher. Even if this is all highly off-kilter, it's also a conscious return to hip-hop on its most basic, beats-and-rhymes level; hooks or jazz and funk samples aren't even considerations here. The production is spacy and atmospheric, often employing weird ambient noises and futuristic synths that clash with the defiantly low-budget production values. It's also quite minimalist, particularly on tracks like "Vital Nerve," which is basically just a three-note synth line over a beat, and the classic
's single "The Fire in Which You Burn," where
trades rhymes with
over a skittering beat and sitar drone. Other tracks have sci-fi and conspiracy theory undertones; some are set in an Orwellian dystopia, while some pointedly satirize corporate and capitalist greed. Yet there's also some straightforward realism, as on "Last Good Sleep," a frightening domestic abuse drama. Funcrusher Plus demands intense concentration, but also rewards it, and its advancement of hip-hop as an art form is still being felt. It's difficult, challenging music, to be sure, and it's equally far ahead of its time.