There is no debate that the 1990s were the Golden Age of Hip Hop Music. While the 80s were so crucial to the development of mainstream exposure, the 90s was the definitive decade for the genre. At that time traditional rock music wasn’t as prominent and Grunge took it’s place. It’s my opinion this open the flood gates for mainstream Hip Hop to reign supreme in this era. It seemed like almost every quarter there was an incredible LP dropping. Lyrics were evolving like nothing before. Emcees were speed rapping, two dudes from sewers riggidy rapped like no one and Reggie Noble made having cerebral palsy sound fresh. Gone were the James Brown samples and now the time of record digging was more important than ever. Some would say the 90s was the changing of the guard. Unlike today the mainstream then needed to sound different to survive. No one sounded the same. That was taboo. And if you did, you were called out on it by your peers as well as radio personalities. Competition was important and most of the time it was all in good nature. But with all genres of music you still have your lesser known underground artists and no one defined the underground Hip Hop scene like Company Flow.
Before there was a Run the Jewels, emcee El P was better known as El Producto. Before Killer Mike, there was Bigg Jus and finishing this Hip Hop trifecta was DJ Mr. Len. In 1996 they released their debut album “Funcrusher Plus”. At the time, glam rap was rearing it’s ugly head into middle America’s living rooms. No longer were emcees trying to outdo each other lyrically, now it was more about how much money was made off their success. Beats were now trying to be catchier for the night clubs. Lyrics were lazy and punch lines seemed to be drifting wayside. Gangster rap was prominent and everybody was a killer or a big time drug dealer. “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks” was now the motto thanks to Sean Combs. Ghost writing was in full effect. So when Funcrusher dropped, it truly was a breath of fresh air.
Funcrusher was and still is a diamond in the rough. There hasn’t been an album to rival it. While it didn’t get any mainstream play, it was critically acclaimed. And rightly so. It was the underground hip hop movement’s soundtrack. There was nothing like it. El P’s original production was ahead of its time. Every beat painted a picture and his and Jus’ lyrics were the cherry on top. You can literally listen to the instrumental version of this album and be perfectly happy. When you listened to this album you knew you were hearing something magical. I like to say it’s like listening to Illmatic or Low End Theory for the first time. Yeah. That great.
Let’s talk Instrumentals. The bass was earth shattering. Kicks were the thud of Hip Hop’s heart beat. These tracks had life. The snares ended each bar with such completion. It brought the BAP. To this day I have no clue where the samples came from, nor do I care to find out. Many producers will tell you the best hip hop songs have samples you can never recognize. This is the deal here. Every. Song. It meshed perfectly. It was so fuckin’ simple yet so complex and there hasn’t been a beat maker ever to reproduce this type of production. From the first track “Bad Touch Example” the beat comes in and the bass just makes the head nod instantly. If you don’t then you have no soul. Period. Move on down to “The Fire in Which You Burn” (my personal fave) and it is a basic drum loop, sitar sample, and a fresh sample scratched. That’s it, and it is probably the most Hip Hop lyrical tracks of the entire album. You should also note that another reason the production is crucial to the culture of Hip Hop music was that it was one of the first times we heard beats change up in the middle of the song. “Krazy Kings” is the example. A slow piano sounding so laid back and then smashes you in the face with some blazing horns on the hook. Bigg Jus shows he can lyrically hold his own on this track too as El P is not featured.
Lyrics play a huge part on this album. The production was straight flames. NOBODY was making beats like this so NOBODY could just rhyme over these tracks. This to me is what made El P and Bigg Jus so essential. In a decline of mainstream lyrics, here comes two emcees that not only can destroy the English language but if needed to could freestyle off the top with ease. This is and was an artform not many emcees could pull off effortlessly. Another highlight of the pair is that they were able to make words rhyme but didn’t use the traditional methods. Rhyme schemes weren’t stuck in one cadence. Especially EL P who had a rapid delivery and was able to fit so many syllables between bars and didn’t sound rushed when doing so. Jus was more laid back with it and had the venom but could still rapidly crumble mics if he needed to. That isn’t something you see often. Only the greats were known to be able to switch styles like that. There were features on a couple tracks and these weren’t light weights either. Where the mainstream would have an established artists bring their less talented homies onto projects, FC+ had underground royalty features. J-Treds, BMS, and Breezly Brewin. (Also a shit talkin’ RA the Rugged Man if you listen good enough) While this is an album of hard hitting beats and rhymes, there is one song that has always stuck with me. Matter of fact, many have said conceptual songs are my strong suit and this track was my inspiration. “Last Good Sleep”. El P opens up about childhood trauma of domestic violence. This is what solidified my love for this album. It showed that “underground” emcees were more than some angry backpacking outcasts who liked to battle each other.
20 years later Funcrusher is still a hidden gem waiting for people to discover it. It’s my experience that when you do show someone who loves Hip Hop music FC+ for the first time, they become hooked and never forget it. If you love RTJ then you need to do yourself a favor and go get this album. Because with no Funcrusher Plus, there is no Run the Jewels.