Under the Circumstances

Artist: Grand AgentTitle: Under the CircumstancesRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Paine

In the burgeoning independent era of Hip-hop of the late 90’s, few records had more energy than Grand Agent’s By Design. The album was a bold contrast to Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s mellower grooves. It also featured rising names like Chops and Kutmasta Kurt, while incorporating Lord Finesse and A.G. to boot, appeasing the masses in the process. Since then however, the follow-up Fish Outta Water boasted a handful of potent singles, but lacked the complete vision of its predecessor. A remix album and almost two years, Grand Agent delivers Under the Circumstances (Soul Spazm) – created in collaboration with Madlib’s talented younger brother Oh No. Can the pairing strike up the demand for one Philadelphia’s favorite native sons?

Grand Agent has been one of the few underground artists who has mastered the art of the hook. Whether on “Every Five Minutes” or “Skillz Philly,” part of Agent’s package is his ability to stick to traditional song structure. This album is no different. “Jake Up” evaluates increased police presence, and uses a hook sweet enough for the radio to carry it through. This joint is one of the album’s best offerings, a fresh spin on Hip-hop and Jake’s continued static. For such a short album, Agent seems to be focused on bringing out a new artist: Liv L’Raynge. This female MC has a delightfully rough style that channels Heather B and UTD’s Ces at points. While she fails to connect on “Ooh La-Lah,” she makes right not only rhyming but singing on “Fascination.” Grand Agent’s mind seems to be all over the place. After two full-length albums, he is still capable of penning very objective rhymes on various topics. He furthers his knack for intimate relationship songs with “Fascination.” But, this more feels like an EP than an album. There is no big picture. Perhaps that was intended all along. Not to say that each song doesn’t have purpose, but this is not as cohesive as previous stuff from Grand Agent.

Oh No’s own Disrupt album was subject to critical herald. Here however, Oh No may be reaching for Grand Agent’s sound. “L.A. Confidential” for instance, sounds a little too close to video games for Agent’s rhymes about an industry done wrong. Equally, “Must’ve Thought It’s Still ‘84” grows tedious, fast. Oh No uses a highly repetitious loop reminiscent of DJ Scratch’s production for Busta Rhymes to close out the 90’s. The track’s only defense might be its scratches, which liven up the moment with a feisty session towards the end. In other places, Oh No and Grand Agent certainly reflect on a new side of each other. “Behind the Wall” returns to some of that early GA energy, with a distinctly Oh No spin on things. The electronic noises used to accent, are nothing found on the chop-reliant style of Kutmasta Kurt. In the end, Oh No and Grand Agent aren’t musical soulmates. This is not Madvillain or Jaylib, nor does it try to be. Instead, like the Fish Outta Water Remixes, this feels more temporary, and brings two very capable artists together to jam.

After intros and interludes, this is a six track EP that plays short at that. For what it is, it possesses a fair amount of creativity in collaboration terms alone. Both Grand Agent and Oh No continue to do what we’ve come to expect. Their styles yield a little bit on each other’s behalf. This album is far from life changing, and lacks the interest that both full lengths before it carried. Still, given the response of Fish Outta Water, Grand Agent is to be commended for trying new things, and continuing to be a criminally overlooked MC.