The New Classics

January 2, 2009

Mixtape Review / Download: Strong Arm Steady, Gang Mentality

01.02.09

Any artist who gets the co-sign from Talib Kweli deserves some attention. Strong Arm Steady comes from Kweli’s own Blacksmith Records with this mixtape to prepare us for their upcoming album, Arms & Hammers.

Gang Mentality is a real mixed bag, from my view. Krondon, Phil the Agony and Mitchy Slick definitely know how to rock the mic hard, proving this on the DJ Khalil laced ‘Can’t Let It Go’, whose beat sounds like it came straight off of Dr. Dre’s hard drive. On the drowsy, thick beat of ‘Sixteen’, the Strong Arm Steady gang rap about their youth on the streets; nothing new to rap fans, but guest star Paul Wall adds an extra verse of his unique charisma, which actually helps the song. ‘Sunny C.A.’ is a summery anthem for the group’s home state, and Mistah F.A.B., Planet Asia & Bishop Lamont join them on one of the better songs on the album.

On the flip side, Gang Mentality has a few songs that, while not terrible, are just kind of boring. ‘Night After Night’ is another track produced by DJ Khalil, with a nursery rhyme melody turned into a strip club song that just does not work at all. ‘Don’t You Remember’ is a reflective track, with Clinton Sparks providing the sped-up sample for the three MC’s to rhyme over. The problem is that none of them really stand out, just kicking out a few generic rhymes that should feel more from the heart than they come out as. Listening to this song, all I could think of was how much better Talib himself would sound over this beat.

It is no surprise that the best song on the album features the Blacksmith CEO himself, Talib Kweli. ‘Give It Up’, also featuring West Coast rapper Guilty Simpson, has a nice kickdrum beat, contrasted with a smooth, soulful sample. The message of the song is warning mediocre, and aging rappers to give up their craft:

You need to give it up.
Go on, sell your house, better yet, drive a Fed-Ex truck.
Punch the clock, shovel shit.
Do anything besides hip hop.
I know you love it, but you need to stop.

Gang Mentality is an excellent showcase of Strong Arm Steady’s diverse styles, and they are supplemented by a pretty good group of fellow underground West Coast rappers. If you can get around the always-unfunny rap skits, and just a small handful of underwhelming songs, this release is definitely worth checking out for yourself. Strong Arm Steady will always have a place on this site.

Strong Arm Steady - Gang Mentality

Album: Clinton Sparks & Talb Kweli present Gang Mentality
Artist: Strong Arm Steady
Label: Blacksmith Music
Producers: Clinton Sparks, DJ Khalil, Kyhill, more
Featured Artists: Talib Kweli, Paul Wall, Mistah F.A.B., Planet Asia, Bishop Lamont, Guilty Simpson, Blaq Toven, Sean Deez, Chace Infinite, Affion Crockett, Damu, Kobe
Highlights: ‘Sixteen’, ‘Sunny C.A.’, ‘Can’t Let It Go’, ‘Running Back to You’, ‘Give It Up’
Rating: 6.5

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