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Black Reign and Ohkang

For a lot of hip-hoppers today, having the hottest and latest production equipment seems like a sure-fire path to success. Although that method works for some, other insatiable groups like Detroit's Black Reign and Ohkang recognize the value in lo-fi glory. The duo specializes in taking stripped-down soul samples, coupling them with 808 drum kicks that wallop like a mule, and lacing it all with lyrics that stick to your cerebrum like they're made of Velcro. It's a style unique in the sheer depth to which the two self-taught producers/engineers/MCs are able to connect hood rhymes with knob-tweaking and make it all come out sounding fresh and legit. Their latest album, Bass and Brass Knuckles, is as DIY as it gets, with hunger, homemade beats, and jury-rigged equipment as their blueprint. Surprisingly, it all works. Cuts like "Blue Bird" and "Expose" are like a sensory massage on one hand, while "Sucka MC" bangs out like the soundtrack to George Orwell's 1984. An album favorite is the crafty track "Contra," with its simple chorus: "Up up down down left right left right B A start, B A start." Nintendo fans might recognize it as a cheat code for Contra the videogame, while those who love to overproduce might see it as a reason to fall back. The best cuts here are "Manhood (Self Made)" and the grimy track "Colors," featuring straight-to-the-gut vocals from Sterling, a guest MC, who paints a different picture with each bar. You won't find it at Target, but the left-brained madness that emerges on Bass and Brass Knuckles is what the bigwigs only wish they could create.


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