The Oakland-based, perma-stoned Green Ova rap crew doesn’t much care whether you’re listening or not, or at least that’s the impression I get. The crew, anchored by the duo Main Attrakionz, had a relatively big year in 2011: Appearing on ASAP Rocky’s LIVELOVEA$AP, working extensively with producer-of-the-moment Clams Casino, seeing their murk-rap aesthetic take over the internet-rap underground. But they continued to crank out vast volumes of music faster than any human being could reasonably be expected to process. But every one of their releases demands at least a listen or two, and the best ones (Main Attrakionz’ Chandelier and 808s & Dark Grapes II, Squadda Bambino’s Back $ellin’ Crack) deserve a whole lot more. The Grind, Hustle & Talent, the latest from crew youngster Shady Blaze, doesn’t quite reach those records’ heights, but it still falls somewhere near the top of the pile, and it also works as a testament to one of the most productive and quietly influential rap crews working today.
Over their rapidly-expanding body of work, the Green Ova crew have developed a very particular aesthetic: Hard, emotive street-rap paired with dazed, head-blown production that sounds, at times, like a fifth-generation dub of an old Compton’s Most Wanted tape. On many of their most potent tracks, the vocals are buried so deep in the mix that they can be tough to distinguish. That was certainly the case on Shady Blaze’s breakout project, the Shady Bambino Project mixtape, which paired him with producer Squadda Bambino. On that tape and just about everything that followed, Shady has hardened his place within the crew: He’s the fast-rapping freak who jumps on Green Ova tracks and injects a jolt of dizzy energy whenever things push too far toward heady blissout. On purely technical terms, he’s by far the most gifted rapper in the crew, and his Twista-style double-time verses can be an absolute blast after a few verses of the other guys’ bleary-eyed bleakness. On Squadda’s recent “Home,” he even came perilously close to overshadowing a truly excellent Danny Brown verse. He doesn’t seem to have a ton to say, and his persona hasn’t developed much, but he’s still an exciting talent.
The Grind, Hustle & Talent pushes Shady closer to the sort of sharp clarity you hear on most releases than The Shady Bambino Project did, but it’s still very much a Green Ova project, with all the blurred thud that his affiliation implies. On “Beast Torch Em,” he reaches almost Bone Thugs levels of melodious triple-time over a hard, minimal track that never comes close to overwhelming him. The self-produced “Another Dimension” lets his voice rain down from every angle, a truly disorienting syllable-storm. “Feel No More” has Shady and Main Attrakionz member MondreM.A.N. falling through a Clams Casino-style patchwork cloud of sadness. Not all of it works; some tracks, like “G.O.B.L.I.N.,” are pretty much just boringly normal rap songs. But for most of its length, The Grind, Hustle & Talent is another powerful argument that the Green Ova crew belongs on your radar.
Stream The Grind, Hustle & Talent at Shady’s Bandcamp page. It costs $5 to buy — exactly what mixtapes used to cost back in the slimline-CD-case era.