The Freestyle Fellowship, To Whom It May Concern

Jon Caramanica

By Jon Caramanica

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

While the rest of Los Angeles was drowning in self-conscious gangsterism in the late '80s and early '90s, a small oasis of progressivism was growing in South Central. Freestyle Fellowship were at the forefront of this counter-scene, a group of advanced-placement MCs rapping with rapid jazz cadences and "experimenting with tonal and harmonic inflections." Sound dull? Only in concept. Aceyalone, Mikah 9, Self Jupiter, P.E.A.C.E. and J. Sumbi were awe-inspiring MCs. "We Will Not Tolerate" is a case study in lyrical one-upmanship — speedy one moment, languorous the next, sometimes spelling words out in full — rapped entirely in tandem.

A life-changing, awe-inspiring classic

The solo tracks are equally thrilling — Aceyalone's "My Fantasy" is an exuberant trip from the beat-banging in the school bathroom to b-boying in outer space. J. Sumbi makes the group's implicit politics vividly explicit on "Legal Alien," and Mikah 9 finds the middle point between singing and rapping on "7th Seal." Considering what a lo-fi production To Whom… was — a total of 800 copies were originally distributed solely on vinyl and cassette — the beats were outstanding and precociously radio-ready, employing samples used years later by Xzibit ("For No Reason") and Ghostface Killah ("Dedications"). But while the gangsters from the other side of town loudly defined an era, the Fellowship and their brethren became extremely talented footnotes. To Whom… was the first chapter of a tale that was never to properly unfold.