The Arsonists are gimmick-less. In fact, the band's only hook is its
skill. Here's hoping that's enough, because As the World Burns
deserves to break through, even if it's not perfect.
Formed in 1993 as the Bushwick Bomb Squad, the hip-hop crew has
several buzzworthy 12-inch singles to its name and a reputation for
putting on a scorching live show. The five MCs Q-Unique
(longtime member of the Rock Steady Crew), D-stroy, Freestyle, Swel
Boogie, and Jise One all have distinctive styles that blend
together well: Few songs on As the World Burns sound like solo
joints with guest appearances. So there's no star, and the personality
that defines the record is a group personality one that pays
tribute to 20 years of hip-hop without becoming nostalgic.
After an "Intro" of studio chatter, the record starts off with
"Backdraft" (RealAudio excerpt) an aggressive manifesto that sets the tone for much of the
rest of the set. While most of the record stands somewhere between Gang
Starr's spareness and the Wu-Tang's eerie atmospheres, the Arsonists
manage to maintain a distinctive style. It's what allows them to do a
track like "Pyromaniax," full of (Warner Bros. cartoon-music wizard)
Carl Stallinglike muted trumpet and oom-pahs, or the lush,
soulful "Flashback" (RealAudio excerpt).
Lyrical Skills capital "S" are in evidence throughout the
album. Each member of the crew can hold his own, as evidenced on the
hilarious "Lunchroom Takeout" (RealAudio excerpt). D-Stroy gets dada on "D-Sturbed Words"
and the group warps meter all over the place on "Geembo's Theme."
There's not a lazy lyric on the record, and the nods to the Black Sheep
and Onyx, among others, are sly rather than slick.
As one of the few non-rock acts signed to Matador, the Arsonists have
some unusual challenges ahead of them. As the World Burns is a
first-rate hip-hop record. Let's hope it gets the airplay it deserves.