Reviewed by Aaron Shuman
Thursday, June 15 2000, 7:11 PM
If as Ganxsta Ridd once said, the microphone is a gun because you don't pick one up unless you know how to use it -- a dictum critics of hiphop would do well to heed -- then Chicago's Rubberoom has a full arsenal of sound at its disposal. On Architechnology's inset, a phoenix-like creature rises from the South Side, mike-guns drawn, spans the city in a back-flip, and lands gracefully on the Gold Coast downtown, all against the most honeyed sunset skies this side of Coltrane's Interstellar Space. The image is not just millenial fancy but an accurate reflection of Rubberoom's role in the scene, since the album boasts 5 MCs with 13 different DJs, drawn from Chicago's various neighborhoods, no easy feat in a city known more for its segregation than its hiphop.
On Architechnology's back cover, the phoenix returns from downtown, flying out of a sun pinched between stormier clouds, mike-guns replaced by smoke rising from clenched fists, visor raised, eye sockets burning with holy light. "Smoke" is Rubberoom's anthem about the spread and transformative potential of the Word, spoken in underground networks of hiphop and poetry slams. The chorus:
"All that was left was smoke after I spoke
Keep a mike hot with 2500 degree quotes
Act like it don't concern ya and watch it burn ya
Wild fire spreading to cloak all that was left was smoke"
This recalls Kamau Daa'ood's famous description of Amiri Baraka, back-lit in red light, appearing to exhale fire as spit flew from his lips while reading, and the cuts by DJ Massacre of the Molemen -- including a particle accelerator of a bridge, with break-it-down drums over the left hand of a stride pianist truly kicking the song into next gear -- insure the message remains memorable. The important point for Rubberoom is that the Word's power lies not just in blowing up the stage and dropping the mike on the floor but in the circuit of knowledge that may be completed.
With this many DJs on the record, Architechnology's songs are often as cinematic as they are rockers. Most cuts begin with subsonic bass and keyboards rising like fogbanks, occasionally followed by Hound of the Baskerville-style baying or other signifiers of a wasteland, before our heroes' voices cut through like searchlights. The music, in other words, creates an arena of heightened awareness and perception -- much as Raptivism Records employs hiphop as a theater for organizing with its No More Prisons comp, on which Rubberoom also appears -- the beats come kicking once the knowledge starts dropping.
The best example of this on Architechnology is "Vertigo," a shout-out to dead homiez and the preciousness of life. The song opens, simultaneously artificial and natural, with soundings from the Loch Ness deep accompanied by synthesized flutes and ratchet, birdcalls and snapping twigs, an exhalation of breath. The bass wave becomes a bass line; the ratchet is tighter, like a knife striking a sharpening stone, a cigarette lighter that won't catch, a dealer rifling cards. Add a rattling of bones or runes, a cough, synth sounds emitted like beacons from the Death Star, and:
"The truth I manifest through every breath in every step
Brothers who passed away prove that life is so delicate
Except for those who form
Bear witness to regal linguistics from enchanted mystics
Who roll with quantum physics. You won't roll
in what becomes a very poetic, moving tribute. If you have ever walked hood up, hoodied head a resonator for the bass implanting you via headphones, through the dead zones our revitalized urban cores have increasingly become, on a hot day during lunch hour, then you have some sense of the alien landscape Rubberoom traverse here, the hiphop head as seer, purveyor of original Truth, fording the straits of downtown suits.
There are another fourteen tracks and more than an hour of music here. By the closer "Pathway to the Abyss," opening like an early 70s Pharoah Sanders number with sax cries, attenuated by pitchshifter, over bells before a slamming beat, you know it's been a righteous journey. Using DJ science as a tool to rearrange Chicago's architechnology, to remove the barriers that isolate hoods--just as drummer Kahil El'Zabar's monthly jams seek to unify Chicago's hiphop, house, and jazz scenes--Rubberoom seek to root out the machine at the center of city life and create early fables of its reconstruction.
Architechnology is a 3-2-1/Indus Records release