Great Lakes Crew, The Land of the Lakes

Great Lakes Crew, The Land of the Lakes

“Rap game’s too stale, needs seasoning.
Great Lakes is change you can believe in.”
— Great Lakes Crew, “Hip Hop Symphony”

Above lyric could not be more accurate. Hip-hop is like a beautiful cut of meat — in the right hands and with proper preparation, it will sizzle, marinate; look and taste great. Some chefs drown their steaks in competing flavors, use too much heat, or distribute it unevenly, resulting in over-cooked, inedible monstrosities. Off the grill, they mask their crappy product with sprinkles of cracked pepper and store-bought garlic salt, or obscene doses of A-1 sauce.

The differences between a superb piece of meat (quality hip-hop) and a low-grade, bland, steak cutlet (commercial rap music) are often just as evident and indicative as the disparities in the various establishments that serve them. Just because it’s a New York strip doesn’t mean it will taste the same at Ruth’s Chris as it will at TGI Friday’s. Not to knock the latter restaurant (overweight office types seem to love them, and I hear they do a “great” margarita), but when I’m in the mood for distinct culinary brilliance, or a dining atmosphere not reminiscent of a tchotchke-laden suburban nightmare, I take my business to locations bathed in class and excellence. This approach makes the most sense when considering what to put in my belly; why the hell shouldn’t we all take this same approach when choosing what to put in our ears?

Indeed, it is often the smaller, independent, out-of-the-way kitchens which cook up the best beats and rhymes. The commercial rap scene is stale, tired, about as relevant as Dave Coulier dancing the Charleston while holding a Furbee. In this digital age of global connectivity, where markets are no longer constrained by location or technology, the once strictly-local sounds of an infinite number of talented musicians can circulate through communities all over the world in real time.

The Great Lakes Crew is one such collection of artists, and their stomping ground, northern Ohio, is one such talent-filled region. Dubbed the “The 4th Coast,” or “The Heartland of Hip Hop,” the GLC lies in the easternmost point of what I and other northern Midwest rappers have lovingly come to call “The North Coast.” However one chooses to label this territory, stretching from as far west as Idaho, tracking along the northern trail to as far east as Ohio, these states are responsible for a plethora of capable DJs and MCs ready and willing to crank out this new, original, evolving, inclusive brand of hip-hop. At a time in the music scene when braggadocio, materialism, disingenuousness, and obstructionism plague that most pure creation of New York from 1972, The Great Lakes Crew are ambassadors of goodwill. They join an already vibrant chorus of real men and women, committed to the ideals of true hip-hop culture.

Puttin’ it down as a group since 2006, the GLC have much to celebrate in their junior outing, The Land of the Lakes. There is a definitive tone and flow to the album, established early on by the opening track “Rich and Famous.” It begins softly and with some brevity but quickly goes tenacious, in that ever-so-awesome way. One thing the North Coast has in spades is endless, intricate, repetitive rhythms and harmonies, blended like silk into all kinds of interesting beats. To the connoisseur, this track is another fine example of such craftsmanship; I’m reminded of the group Kanser (Twin Cities region since ’95) and the songs “Heard It From Here” and “Thursday Night,” off their first record, Inner City Outer Space — it’s how the song carries from verse to chorus seamlessly, aided by the repeating notes and rhyme styles.

To be honest, it is hard for me to write a review of any North Coast group without being reminded constantly of Minneapolis, and not just the Twin Cities hip-hop scenes, but tons of other stops along the northern trail, like Wisconsin and Montana and so on. Due to the location of the institution of higher learning I attended, I found myself amongst gifted rappers and beat-makers from every corner. There’s an 8-member, live-band hip-hop/funk/jazz group from Bozeman (Eightrack Mind), two MCs and a DJ from South Dakota (Soulcrate Music), and literally too many other excellent groups from “Minnesnowta” to mention all in one article. All of these artists have differences in style and substance, but they share an independent spirit and the benefits of living in a part of the country with such an amazing vibe, attitude, or whatever you want to call it.

The hip-hop in the north matches the general platitudes of its residences, where values like community and individualism, but also brotherhood and humility are still alive and shine through on every album produced. When listening to The Land of the Lakes in its entirety from start to finish, it falls into line with other North Coast classics: variations in tempo and tone throughout. Each track can stand alone, but work best in succession of each other. Each member of the GLC raps with diction and impeccable timing, over music ranging from melodic to in your face.

A perfect example of the uniquely North Coast temperament can be seen in the interlude track “Get It in Ohio.” Essentially, the song is straight Southern-style and raw (club-esque if you will), reminiscent of T.I., and yet, it’s about taking a shit. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if there is an implied connection to modern, cookie-cutter, brash Southern rap music and bowel movements. It’s precisely this characteristic to not always be serious and get silly which bears the stamp of the North Coast hip-hop scene. (Not to say that only the North produces lighthearted hip-hop, let’s not forget PUTS in LA or MF DOOM of NYC. When under the microscope, though, the North Coast scene has more of this style per capita than its bi-coastal counterparts.)

Another attribute would be that some songs don’t have to sound like hip-hop, they can have electronic rhythms or indie-rock accompaniments altogether. The GLC understands this, and with the remix of the track “Disposition,” featuring The Sleeps (prog-rock group from Cleveland), the crew rhymes fluidly over music that brings to mind Broken Social Scene or Ra Ra Riot. As is almost always the case with the independent music scene, in writing this article, I got to learn about The Sleeps and in doing so, found I really dig their stuff, so once again I’ve been exposed to interesting music simply by checking out other new music; isn’t the underground great?

The Land of the Lakes finishes off smooth and mellow, like a fine cigar or drug trip. Speaking of drugs, a North Coast classic like this album wouldn’t be complete without track 15, “Drug Years,” because, well let’s face it, the North has a grade of dank buds the likes of which only Bob Marley and God could exceed. All kidding aside, it’s pretty stellar (the weed), and so it’s quite common for northern trail groups to praise the green stuff while typically assailing the powder and even sometimes lamenting the sauce.

The Great Lakes Crew have a bright future ahead of them. The list of artists they have toured with thus far is astounding: Digable Planets, Wale, Afroman, and Kool Keith, to name a few. For a group less than half a decade old, they are still in their adolescence, but right around the corner, adulthood looms. Will they manage to transition into maturity while maintaining the spark of originality first acquired years earlier, or will they refuse to grow and ultimately fail by offering recycled material disguised as edgy-but-familiar? Unlike our president, Great Lakes might be the change you can believe in.

(Blue Suit Records -- http://www.myspace.com/bluesuitrecords; Gold Spin Music -- http://www.goldspinmusic.com/; Great Lakes Crew -- http://www.greatlakescrew.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Tuesday, September 21st, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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