Killing Fields

Artist: MolemenTitle: Killing FieldsRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Michael Pollock

Chicago Hip-Hop is in the middle of everything, and that means sedimentary influence: New York boom-bap, L.A. swagger, Southern drawl; it's all around, all for the taking. It reached a new high in 2005, with Common (Be) and Kanye West (Late Registration) putting out groundbreaking albums that soaked up free-thought collaboration while shaking off the stale conventions that typically come with it. It was damn-near revolutionary: records with John Mayer and Jon Brion, respectively, that didn't sound forced or duped, and people totally got it. Suddenly, Chicago Hip-Hop made sense.

Molemen are a Hip-Hop production group embedded in the Windy City's underground. They make sense, too, but it's because they don't pull any punches. You see it coming, and yet, you don't move out of the way. What they do is so straightforward, so genuine, that the temptation to describe it in complex terms-to overcompensate where they've left voids-is painfully strong, especially when they just keep at it, entirely without compromise. Killing Fields (Molemen) is the latest example of the group's no-frills beat game, where members Panik, Memo and PNS invite neighbors (Rhymefest, Juice) and out-of-town guests (Kool G. Rap, Saigon) to a place of neutrality for a bunch of one-offs and Fat Tape cuts, all for the hell of it, just to say they did so.

Molemen have a sound, but its a sound that bends and wraps around the instincts of its hosts. The course is defined less by pre-determined samples than by improvised execution. It is why Mass Hysteria and G. Rap can rap over a track ("Full Metal Jacket"; dig the "lock and load" move line at the beginning) that sounds exactly like D-Block's "2 Gunz Up" and not blink twice. It explains how Juice can breathe new life into a dirty blues thing (Panik's specialty) that hasn't gotten love since Compton's Most Wanted's Music to Driveby, or how Slug and Murs can pull a 180 by rocking cowbells over PNS's "My Alien Girlfriend."

It is the unexpected makes Killing Fields so special, that debunks the myths about boom-bap and swagger and drawl and how unavoidable appropriation is. But the haymakers are still the highlights, those bombs you see coming. Rhymefest absolutely murders Memo's smooth "Provin'em Wrong," flowing breathlessly while sneaking in jabs; Brother Ali does just as much, if not more, on "Life Sentence." Likewise, Saigon pushes back on "2 Hour Banger," matching the beat's instability with his own chaotic cadence.

Nothing comes close, however, to what Vakill does on "V," the crater he leaves in this thing. More than anything else here, it pits intensity against intensity, like watching two superheroes shoot fireballs at each other in mid-air while a city writhing in flames watches on below, waiting. You can't tell who will win, but know this: Chicago Hip-Hop makes sense again.