Get comfortable in that chair of yours, reading this gonna take some time. The two artist who make up White Boiz, Krondon and Shafiq Husayn, have been putting in work for years: leaving their unique imprint on the sound of the west coast underground. Their debut album, Neighborhood Wonderful is about Los Angeles and the type of sounds that have been emerging from it for near two decades. It’s about South Central and Blackness, and trying to express things beyond what those terms connote in the popular imagination. Even if you personally haven’t rocked with Krondon or Shafiq over the years, their debut long player will make you a fan.
Krondon first began to make waves in the post-Gangster rap, post-Good Life underground LA rap scene of the late 90s. Alongside acts like Dilated Peoples, Defari, Self-Scientific, Jurassic 5 and others, Krodon helped create a sound that made many of us proud to rock our Jansports and New Balances. Whether he was lacing local late night staple radio show Friday Night Flavors with ill promos or killing verses alongside Planet Asia and Self Scientific, Krondon’s voice and flow were undeniable. In the mid aughts he linked up with Xzibit, Mitchy Slick and Phil Da Agony to form Strong Arm steady. After a stream of mixtapes, and X’s departure, they dropped their well respected full length In Search of Stoney Jackson on Stones Throw.
As for Shafiq, he has roots as a studio producer back in the early 90s, but truly emerged in the mid-aughts as part of Afro-Futurist trio Sa-Ra. Alongside Om’Mas Keith and Taz Arnold, Shafiq pushed against the sounds and ideas of rap and r&b that had become cliche and uninspired, even as both genres were at peak popularity. Their brand of molasses swank and funk merged the drunken thump of Dilla’s drums under eighties boogie, and sprinkled some erotic Prince frequencies, to give artist like Bilal, Erykah Badu, Roots Manuva and many others, music that sounded like the future. After 12 inch releases, some remixes, and a couple of full lengths, the trio semi-disbanded. Yet in many ways with folk like J*Davey, Prefuse 73, Daedelus, Ta’Raach, and Dntel, they predated the types of sounds that would fuel the LA Beat Scene. Shafiq himself went on to anchor Erykah’s fantastic New Amerykah: Part One, and release his own solo debut: the gumbo of next-level spaceship audiophonics En-A-Free-Ka in 2009.
These are the experiences and textures that make Neighborhood Wonderful the excellent piece of music that it is: raps grounded in the politics and identities of African descent LA life and sounds rooted in sampled-based techniques, but willing to explore other regions. In many ways it’s perfect that the first words Krondon utters on the album are “live from the mothership.” That opening track is full of swirling strings and clattering steel drums that provide the perfect moody backdrop for Krondon to paint the world they are coming from and trying to take us to: “me and Shafiq like Farrakhan meets Flying Lotus / from the fault lines of California, on ya. The following song and single, “Main St.” is equally as magnetic, over a stuttering propulsive lowend, Krondon speaks on why he (and many men) get addicted to bad girls with little brains, but that fire juice box. Things keep rolling on the mean “Learn Tho” where Krondon just catches the rap holy ghost through Shafiq’s beat that could soundtrack a crime heist.
Beyond those three songs, I could easily speak most of the remaining ten tracks with as much fanboy enthusiasm. There’s “Variety”, an amalgam of organic industrial sounds that tweaks the head nod factor to ten. “Hear Say” places Krondon in storyteller mode as a melancholy acoustic guitar chop sweetly moves in and out of the mix, and a thick tender bass line guides the listener along the myriad of images. And lastly, there’s the other world mutant slap of “G.U.N. (God Understands Niguhs)” that finds some assist on the bars by long-time partner-in-rhyme Chase Infinita spitting “the pendulum rhythm symbolizes my life algorithm / back and forth the modern nigga post-colonialism”. Simply, there is so much good on the album it hard to focus on a few gems.
To close, in a year that has been lightweight on great rap music, The White Boiz definitely are flexing their sonic muscle next to personal and critical favorites like To Pimp A Butterfly, Tetsuo & Youth, and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t go Outside. Though their world view, one tied to Moorish Orthodoxy, may be off putting to some listeners, the complexity in how they approach word and sound leaves much room to be critical and find enjoyment. Those attributes, allow Neighborhood Wonderful to breathe and exist in ways that show Shafiq and Krondon’s musical craftsmanship to be levels above their contemporaries. Don’t half-step and forget to throw these fourteen tracks in your players. Your ears will thank you for it.
Photo by Eric Coleman / Stones Throw Records