Upon checking out the cover art collage of the newest H.o.H. release, which juxtaposes such positive role models as (deep breath) Manson, Nixon, McVeigh, Swaggart, Noriega, scandalized priests, Rumsfeld, Bin Laden, et al., with a peppering of civil rights touchstones (Malcolm X, infamous lynching photos, Farrakhan, Rodney King, etc.), it’s reasonable to assume this isn’t going to be an innocuous Cypress Hill light-up-and-party album. And that it ain’t.
The American Weigh is heavy, dense and loaded in more than one sense. The disc kicks off with an old-fashioned haunted house story setup, complete with the scratches and pops of old vinyl. Then come the beats and bravado of the H.E.M.P. lifestyle that’s “like a movie, you gotta respect it / you’d have to get Martin Scorsese to direct it.”
Wading into the album, it becomes clear that any initial impressions of politicized cultural commentary from the artwork are, um, blunted by harsh realities closer to home. The street life is really the record’s theme, and the point is hammered home repeatedly. Sure, H.o.H. trade liberally in some of the most conventional H’s of the genre (Ho’s, Heaters, Hemp, High-ness), but everyday fears and regrets constantly creep into the songs and haunt them: “My life is changing, s**t ain’t the same no more,” sings a mournful refrain on “My Life.” “These streets is crazy / I’m livin’ for my babies.” The vibe is accentuated throughout by dark, foreboding keyboards.
There are occasional breaks from the overcast urban landscape. “Dreams” starts off as a downright wistful, unabashed love song, but it too is brought back to earth by the realities of the street and the need to “take care of business” before considering settling down.
The American Weigh sounds great, burnished but not slick (recorded locally at Monastic Chambers), and its production is varied and subtle enough to keep catching new details listen after listen.
Hou$e of H.E.M.P. are sure to keep building on their regional growth with powerful releases like this. Go to hemptoonz.com for info, concert dates and merchandise.
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July 27 • The Clyde