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Hip-Hop for the Fans by the Fans: A review of "Thanks for Listening"

by Bianca Spriggs

If you know even a little bit about hip-hop, as in, you’ve been anywhere near a set of speakers in the last thirty years, you know it’s a chimera of a genre. Spliced into sounds within sounds creating sub-genres galore, there’s literally something for everyone to rock to. The more zen among hip-hop fans might say that the music and culture is going through an identity crisis similar to that of an adolescent wondering which group to sit with in the cafeteria. Be that as it may, perhaps the most pervasive affinity for hip-hop is most obvious when true fans of the music make their own.

In sitting down with emcees Fidel Hasflow and Fontaine to discuss their first album, a project that took off just this past January, it’s clear that the love affair these two have for their craft is a lifelong ordeal. Fontaine, who grew up with one foot in Lexington and one foot in Phoenix, and can remember copying down and reconstructing Eazy-E rhymes, recalls his first major inspiration, “My interest I guess started, I don’t know, maybe I was ten? Whenever Slick Rick came out with Children’s Story…I think the first album I knew every album word for word was The [Great] Adventures of Slick Rick. Once you get started you want more and more music like that…Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, all that.”

Hasflow, half a country away, has a similar account, “I like soul music a lot so that was what sort of drew me to it….definitely LL Cool J and Wu-Tang was the first hip-hop I ever heard. Then as I got older I got put onto West Coast rap…what really changed me though, and my idea of hip-hop was when DJ Premier was on Gang Starr. I want to say it was, “The Militia” song. The first time I ever heard “Militia,” I went crazy. I was like what is this? I have got to know who this is…I couldn’t stop listening to that song, forever.”

Their first album recently released by Fidel Hasflow, Fontaine, and Ceez One is called, Thanks For Listening (TFL), a polite title for a fresh new album with bite. Part intellectual bad-boy, part empathetic trickster, TFL is unapologetic but with style. Sort of like an old fashioned house party hosted by a couple of guys who at the end of the night might walk off with your sister AND your girl, but everyone talks about that party for years.

TFL runs the gamut with odes to old school like “Represent,” and tongue-in-cheek anthems like “Mr. Nobody,” to flagrant swagger tracks like “Bubbleguts” and a breath of fresh air in “Freshest MC’s.” There’s even something for the “Fly Ladies.” But it’s the title track that proves this album is anything but polite with its saucy hook, “We don’t give a f*** about your sh** but thanks for listening.”

Listeners will enjoy overall tight-knit beats due to the talents of veteran producer Ceez One and the soulful strains of Hasflow who is proving to be something of a prodigy given that producing beats had heretofore been only something of a hobby, “Being around Ceez has really helped me a lot. He’s like the ultimate teacher.” Along with airtight lyrics and confident delivery, TFL is an album you could keep on loop, if for no other reason than how familiar it feels. Hasflow says the vibe is somewhat intentional, “I wouldn’t put it in a certain category because there’s so many elements. It’s definitely underground…but we actually talked about that a lot, like trying to keep it a little bit retrospect.”

It’s hard to imagine that such a well-blended album was written and recorded within just a few months. The group makes creating an album look ridiculously easy, but it’s clear to Fontaine that this project wouldn’t have happened without such obvious musical chemistry and camaraderie, “It’s not like we sat down and said, let’s work together. We did a song, “Mr. Nobody,” we did “Sinister [Subsidiaries]” first…and then it was like, well, these are kinda coming off real quick…people were liking it. We did a show once and the energy seemed good onstage, so we were like, let’s just knock out some songs; let’s put it together.”

Because the landscape of music and media is changing, saturated even, with music of all gradations, real cream has to work that much more diligently to rise to the top. Hasflow, who is currently the Hip-Hop Director at WRFL, has an eye for marketing trends. On TFL promotional materials, a barcode can be scanned in with a smartphone app that takes you directly to the group’s bandcamp site: www.fidelhasflow.bandcamp.com to listen to the entire album for free and then download for a modest $5.

The release party is at Cosmic Charlie’s on May 11 at 9 PM. A $5 cover gets you in the door for a live performance of Thanks For Listening and also will feature R.P. and Royal Illness. Can’t wait until then? There are two videos currently up on Youtube: “Mr. Nobody” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8-qLDxiTkg and “Sinister Subsidiaries” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14kBycyWtUI