Rap really frustrates me -- its premise should allow for far more variety than the bragging and cashing in we're typically treated to. You can scream "racist!" at me all you want, but there has to be something wrong with a musical culture that can produce "Pimp Juice".
Optimus Rhyme will make you forget the nightmarish orgies of excess and racial self-parody you've seen on the music video channels. They'll make you laugh, they'll make you feel smart, they'll entertain you -- in short, they'll charm your fucking pants off.
Optimus Rhyme don't throw the hip hop idiom out the window, but they've made some radical tweaks. Pretending to be magic hip-hop robots named Wheelie Cyberman and Broken English battling the Wackacons for the fate of Seattle (and more generally, the planet), for instance -- that's new.
They do spend a lot of time rapping about rapping, but it turns out that this can be pretty funny -- especially if the people doing the rapping (about rapping) are pretending to be robots. "Fuzzy Dice" is the best send-up of angst-ridden, self-serious rappers to come around in a long time. They brag some, too, but unlike most groups, they have the skills to back it up. Wheelie Cyberman wields a ridiculously fast tongue (think Bone Thugz & Harmony, think Twister; yes he's in that class of speed when he wants to be) with an offhand, irreverent style that will inspire more than a little resentment in rival MCs. No matter how fast he goes, Wheelie remains clear as a bell and rhythmically powerful -- see blistering album highlight "Ford vs. Chevy" for an example. Broken English can't match his robot ally for speed, but he has style and attitude to spare. In "No Memory", he snubs thousands, as if that's just something you do in the morning between bites of donut.
The most important element behind Optimus Rhyme's success is their backing band. Consisting of drums (Grumble the Consito Metranoid Build 1.312), "low end" (bass, and whatever sounds like it, performed by Stumblebee) and "high end" (things that aren't low end, performed by Powerthighs), the backing band is strong enough to make it in the rock scene on their own merits. The mindless tape loops, sample platters and scratch-fests found in most indie rap are replaced by dynamic, interesting, lively, funky, cool, engaging music.
If you've had trouble finding a rap act you can enjoy without reservation, fear not -- hope has arrived. For their irreverent lyrics, for their smart compositions, but most of all for their genuine rap skills, Optimus Rhyme deserve a chance. Rap from Seattle was a big enough shock; great rap from Seattle damn near killed me.