One of my favorite trends in he evolution of rap came with it’s democratization. Many old school keep it real pundits cried foul as rap was moving away from the ghetto-eccentric view espoused by N.W.A. or Public Enemy. As the ’90s progressed, popular themes in rap increasingly included rock, punk and other non-traditional (outside the black norm) music forms. All this opening up also opened the gates to rappers who might have shared my interests whereas before I could not relate to most of hard-core rap’s posturing and hood tales.
A great example of a product of this movement was Company Flow. I remember seeing the cover art for Funcrusher Plus with it’s naked aliens and wondering if it was some kind of Parliament inspired record. The cover art offered the same kind of intruge that sparked my interest in old sci-fi paperbacks as a kid.
It was just my luck that the record store I was in played a track from the then new album. Company Flow was primarily the handy work of New York based El-P and DJ Mr. Len who in addition to being influenced by all the usual rap greats, had a knack for sci-fi. Those formally unlikely elements came together to create a bizarre sci-fi funk album that in many ways was a nod to the theatrical narratives of Parliament.
While not as funky as say Digital Underground, Company Flow took some of the same elements and transformed them into creepy tales of corporate domination and greed. All of this was delivered with choice samples, sound bites and cued along with strange narratives. Musically, Funcrusher Plus is dense and multi-textured with a dark murky funk about it.
Much of Funcrusher Plus sounds like a series of samples put together rhythmically to tell frighting stories or fragments of events. “Lune TNS” for instance is funny and funky with a off key melody supporting recorded and sampled dialogue describing a corporate financed alien conspiracy. The creative juxtaposition of otherwise unrelated styles and genres was done before with The Pharcyde, but Company Flow ads sophistication in production some literary depth by going deep into a world of 60s B movies and sci-fi novels for inspiration.
While some of the subject matter is out there, a few tracks suggest more grounded influences rooted in the old school. “Collude/Intrude” starts out like many old school rap songs with a simple bass track and repetitive rhythm, it could easily be a Gang Star song. Wu Tang Clan-like vaugley old Chinese kung fu score sounds peppers other songs.
Funcrusher Plus made a modest impact on the rap charts of the day, but like a lot of upcoming rap artists who did not conform to the ghetto gang banger image, they got little airplay (if any) on traditional urban radio. In fact you were more likely to hear Funcrusher Plus on your local college radio station and places where alternative rock was popular. Its impact on the critics and rap itself went far beyond its limited initial airplay.
Funcrusher Plus was released towards the end of a short lived period of experimental rap that went off the rails of expected convention. Even today, more than 20 years after it’s release, Funcrusher Plus still sounds fresh and original due to its innovative sampling and choice of subject matter.