L’Orange & Stik Figa
The City Under The City
Mello Music Group, 2013
I often find myself listening to The City Under The City in my bed, eyes closed, daydreaming. Trying to shake the incandescence of the day-to-day grind, The City Under The City takes me to a new world-a world crowded with street sewer must and haunted by the black and white shadows that dominate noir flicks. For this, I am thankful.
The album’s attitude and setting are so important to this daydream of mine, and without that gritty under-the-subway speakeasy type of feel, The City Under The City would do no more for my dreams than the lackluster Magna Carta Holy Grail. This however, is not the case. “Before Midnight,” which features the standout Rapsody, is a perfect example. Coming in with interweaving samples that rival that of mobster movie dialogue, the imagery is set up in front of you before the first bar is slung. Stuttering bass stabs and stretching violin strings help reinforce the dark noir feel, and as soon as Rapsody’s verse comes in, everything is full circle. You get a certain sense, when listening to this record and songs like “Before Midnight” that The City Under The City is an accompanying soundtrack for some dark mobster movie exploring sociopolitical and harsh economic themes. During the second verse, Stik Figa starts off relaying the overall theme: “What you willing to kill for? What you willing to die for? Money under the mattress, pistol under the pillow.”
The album’s opener “Dusty Speakers” couldn’t have done any better setting up the project. The bass runs and runs, as if it’s flying over a petty criminal after a heist in an alleyway, and Stik Figa’s cutting flow is both dominating and artistically fulfilling.
On “Among Thieves,” producer L’Orange recreates the rawest of 20’s underground dance clubs and hangouts. The piano dances up and down, running parallel with short horn bursts and saxophone breakdowns, and in-between these dominant sounds Stik Figa and yU rap as if they’re standing on stage in front of L’Orange’s band raising a toast to the community.
This is what runs through my head whenever I spin The City Under The City. The title of the album itself is even indicative of this, as it explores the forgotten city where the non-bigots live their lives. L’Orange’s production is beautifully woven to fill in any soundtrack spot for the best noir movies at our disposal, and Stik Figa’s up-front flow and exploring lyrics help dictate the overall feel of this record. If there’s one album of 2013 that is perfect for daydreaming and creating pure imagery, The City Under The City by L’Orange & Stik Figa takes the cake.
Earlier this year, L.A. based producer L’Orange and Stik Figa, an MC from Topeka, Kansas, released The City Under The City. To put it simply, you should listen to this album. Allow yourself to be swallowed up by the moods and emotions that last from beginning to end. Tune into Stik Figa’s lyricism as L’Orange provides a dramatic backdrop of sleek, ice-cold beats. Turn up the volume and bump The City Under The City because it has all the intangibles, making it one of the best albums of the year.
What makes this record stand out is the ambience that is created. From the get-go, there is a feeling reminiscent of a gritty 1940’s noir drama shot in black and white. This is particularly true on “Decorated Silence,” “Dopamine,” “One Of Them” and “Bravo Bravado.” When listening, the damp rain-soaked alleyways of an unforgiving city come to life as those who are up to no good duck into a swanky club for warmth and to conduct illegal business. As with his other projects, L’Orange skillfully adds his own 21st century, technologically advanced spin on throwback sound. If only the recent adaptation of The Great Gatsby had sounded this way.
The instrumental version of this record is worth the listen. However, Stik Figa and his particular flow takes the music to another level. Don’t get it twisted, Figa has been around for awhile. That being said, on The City Under The City, his lyrical dexterity and creativity have reached new heights. On “Smoke Rings,” Figa quite literally blows smoke rings at anyone that would attempt to challenge his abilities as an MC. Over a fast-paced, horn and guitar infused beat he lays it down:
“Work reveals diligence, words reveal real intent/ Can’t kill the spirit won’t kneel before ignorance/ Just want to heal, that appeal to the militant/ Conceal cold steel, blood spilled for the innocent/ Hang by the filament, against these casts of characters/ Assassinate the booth, John Wilkes blast derringers”
As an MC, there is something different about Stik Figa and the skills he brings to the table of hip-hop. It may be that he is from Topeka, not your typical hip-hop city. Whatever it is, he doesn’t just blow smoke rings, he breathes fire.
The same can be said about L’Orange and his production style; there is something different about the way he makes beats and perhaps this is why they work so well together. With a slew of unbelievable guest appearances from Rapsody, Open Mike Eagle, yU and Has-Lo, The City Under The City is one of the records that has it all. It has the masterful production, unreal MC’s and a certain individuality and creativity that captures the essence of hip-hop music. The City Under The City sounds different because it is. Thinking about the music that is considered popular these days, that could not be more of a compliment.