In 2011, hip-hop is holding strong as a two-decade-old corporate media conglomerate where its best acts, if the press is to be believed, often correlate with its biggest labels: Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, Shady and Young Money among them. Random Axe, however, consists of three indie stalwarts, rapper Guilty Simpson and producer/rapper Black Milk — both of Detroit pedigree — and Sean Price, the Boot Camp Clik veteran from Brownsville, New York. The three men first collaborated on “Run” from Guilty’s Stones Throw debut, Ode to the Ghetto, a track produced by Black Milk. The rough-and-tumble chemistry was enough to warrant a full album (Guilty’s verse on “Run” offered the gem, “Random Axe in a jam with macks,” and that name stuck.)
Random Axe‘s originality relies on Black Milk’s signature production style. Foregoing any clear dependence on his influences (Black Milk came up under Dilla), his rhythms here are built from off-kilter drums that double up and step on their own toes, occasionally resembling a drum line. On “Everybody Nobody Somebody,” the beat is stiff and sparse, with Sean P’s hurried verse and Guilty’s relaxed drawl appropriately volatile. Lyrically, the album favors crime-heavy narratives with a particularly excellent effort coming from Sean P’s and various excellent guest verses. Roc Marciano dices up “Chewbacca” with his grimy, golden-age East Coast boasting; Danny Brown, another exciting Detroit voice, is violent and show-stopping on “Jahphy Joe.” Random Axe know their audience, small as it may be, and deliver what they’re looking for in spades.