Grayskul Bloody Radio

[Rhymesayers; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: hip-hop, horrorcore, goth-hop
Others: Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere

It's tempting to dismiss Grayskul's ghosts-and-goblins aesthetic as gimmicky — how are you going to take seriously dudes who borrow their group's name from a He-Man playset? But emcees Onry and JFK aren't about to get all goth on you; truth is, their sound hovers closer to the subversive and angsty sound of the Def Jux collective than it does to that of Marilyn Manson. While Grayskul's first effort for Rhymesayers saw them affecting superhero alter-egos, Bloody Radio takes an even more conceptual approach that can be a little gratuitous and confusing at times. Fortunately, Onry and JFK ground their abstractions throughout in a coherent attack on the contemporary hip-hop landscape. And like any artist well-versed in the conventions of horror, the duo knows how to deliver superficial schlock while slipping in a message.

Dead horses like hip-hop materialism and anti-corporate sentiment are predictably beaten on cue, but are given refreshing twists by strong guest spots from the likes of Cage, Aesop Rock, and Slug. Instrumentalist Rob Castro, alongside an assortment of producers from the Pacific Northwest's Oldominion crew, keeps things appropriately playful or abrasive according to Onry and JFK's wide-ranging objects of derision. “How to Load a Tech” mocks hip-hop's gun fetish over a hollow, spare beat that sounds like it could be a T.I. B-side, while “Haunted” takes the best part of Lil Jon synths and ditches the screaming.

When Bloody Radio seems to be languishing for too long in one of those indie hip-hop laments, it's the flow of JFK that pulls it from its funk. With a delivery that sounds like a cross between Cee-Lo and El-P, he has a knack for pairing jarring imagery ("We got space needles and AIDS") without flittering off into absurdity. The same can't be said of very many emcees; this, along with Grayskul's high-concept approach, should make for essential listening with every new release from JFK and his cohorts.

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