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Impolitic Gangstas

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I.M.P. raps with conviction but no solutions

By Nicky Baxter

TOUTED AS San Francisco's hardest-working "hustlas," I.M.P. (Ill Mannered Playas), helped put the city on the rap map years before the majors came round, scooping up gangsta rappers. In the late '80s, I.M.P. managed to make some noize the old-fashioned way--they earned it, earned it by "working" the street vibe the way Oaktown's Too Short used to, toting tapes to house parties and other informal gatherings. Ill Mannered Playas (In-A-Minute Records) is the group's latest release, and like their 1993 long-player debut, Playas is about niggas gettin' theirs any which way they can. There's a gang of bad-boyz rapping, and the central concern is (all together now) "keepin' it real."

But the formula's gotten ridiculously tired--to say nothing of predictable. After all, how many "vics" can a muthafucka knock off before he (and we) becomes inured to the steady-rising body count? How many "bitches" with unruly mouths can a man backhand? Sure, tracks like "The Bay Way" and "Wild Ass West" are equipped to make the average hard-core fan bob and wave. But these savage sonics evoke images of mass murder (figurative and otherwise) of the African personality. It's way past time to shove this shit to the curb or, at the very least, demand that the gat-rappers start offering some solutions to their vividly depicted killing seasons.

Defiantly anachronistic, I.M.P.'s beats are minimal yet seductive in a perverse way. Sporting a bass that sounds as wide as the world, dusty '70s R&B back-chatting ("Boss Mackin,'" "Tell Me Somethin' Good (Remix)" and wriggly P-funked synthesizers ("The Bay Way"; "Jealousy)," these toxic numbers are hard to ignore. Crew chief Coughnut is perfunctorily convincing as a point man for the thug life, but I.M.P. isn't saying anything new: everybody knows brothas are potential killas or, at the very least, sexocentric maniacs (subliminal media flash: OJ ! Michael Jackson! Clarence Thomas! Willie Horton!). By buying into the lynch-mob mentality, I.M.P. ends up selling out. Now, if I.M.P. and the other rap assassins were to turn their verbal malevolence the other way, all that tough talk might mean something. But as long as people find it fascinating and fiscally rewarding, this is how I.M.P.--and hordes of other rappers--will do it. Tragically, at this point, it appears as if the question "Is this real or is it Memorex?" will be decided in the musical marketplace.

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From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of Metro

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