“World Ultimate”, a hypnotic and elusive charm
American Recordings / Wild West, 1995
“The Good Life Café’s Freestyle Debut”
The alternative scene of Los Angeles has never received in my opinion the praise it deserved. While praising these albums, I will say it over and over again on this site and in my articles, this scene deserves attention because of its excellent achievements. In the early 90’s, this scene was tragically stuck in the era of G-Funkers and gangsta rappers who sold copies by boxes all over the world, overshadowing this much more underground scene reserved for the more informed and erudite fans.
Having discovered this scene very late in my listening experience, I admit to being a bit hypocritical. I myself was absorbed by the much more known and mainstream G-Funk of the 90’s, and I still am today, but in the meantime I have become aware of this scene, which has fascinated me for several years now. Each of the realizations that I discover or rediscover gives me my share of ecstasy. In the small role I can play for my readers and for the Hip Hop culture, and without any pretension, I will try to put some light on the achievements of the alternative scene of Los Angeles. This one is the first to appear, but many others will follow little by little.
Let’s come back briefly on this scene. It all began at the Good Life Café, a food store located in Leimert Park in the South Central district of Los Angeles, where rappers, DJs, breakers and graffiti artists met at parties to battle it out on the mic, known as Project Blowed. Under the impulse of Aceyalone and Abstract Rude, two groups will emerge from this scene, frequently collaborating with each other, the Freestyle Fellowship for the first and Abstract Tribe Unique for the second. Other groups from Los Angeles and the Bay Area will identify themselves from near or far with this scene, without being directly affiliated with it, the most notable are Pharcyde or Hieroglyphics of Del the Funky Homosapien, whose philosophy and musicality can be close to it.
Close to the Project Blowed movement without being a member of it, The Nonce is part of this sound and ideology propelled by the two aforementioned groups, and World Ultimate is the underrated and unknown wonder of the duo. Though short-lived, what Nouka Basetype and Yusef Afloat have managed to achieve is prodigious, yet they struggled to break through to release this debut album. After a first album recorded in the early 90s, the famous creative differences appear between the group and the distribution house, the album will finally not be distributed, before being rediscovered and reissued in 2017/2018. Their record label, Wild West, will conclude a new distribution contract with Rick Rubin’s company, American Recordings. A new hit, admittedly relative, single was released on the Project Blowed compilation in 1994 and a new album was on the way.
“Jazzy rhythms for a hazy evanescence”
Often compared to A Tribe Called Quest, one cannot deny the similarities, Yusef’s voice and flow are directly reminiscent of Q-Tip and the jazzy rhythms can be confusing. Nouka is closer to Aceyalone’s style in the writing but with a more relaxed flow. In its similarities, The Nonce offers something unique and very much their own. Entirely produced by the duo, World Ultimate has something deeper, more evasive, more evanescent. The jazzy, very slow and hazy productions make you instantly hover for a hypnotic atmosphere.
The opening track, On the Air, opens with lush vibes and a sultry sax line, while Keep It On is more awake, anchored by drum patterns and soulful expansive pulses. Good to Go is just anesthetic with its therapeutic piano chord. Hoods Like to Play’s angsty winding is equally excellent, while J to the I captivates with its sparkling bells. On the Road Again is crafted to perfection: robust percussion, soft vibes and a distant jerky flute sample.
“Optimistic and poetic rhyming style”
They adopt an optimistic and poetic rhyming style that is both conversational and reflective, bouncing off each other with impressive chemistry and an incredibly laid-back nature. Bus Stops is a warm ode to women over a relaxing beat consisting of a muted horn sample, muffled percussion and a lazy bass line. The small soft voice of Yusef lulls us into melancholy throughout the album.
Many of the tracks are more introspective in nature where the two rappers comment on their early days in Hip Hop. Keep It On is about their difficulty in getting a contract in the music industry, which they themselves describe as a deal with the devil that corrupts their artistic will. Eight Five delves into the early days of Hip Hop, which they felt was more pure. On Mix Tape, over a wicked bass line, they confide their love for the format and the music that allowed them to have a free artistic creation without worrying about money and the will of the record companies.
Their past at the Good Life Café parties can be felt on several tracks that feature bragging ego-trips typical of the Open Mic, Good To Go or Hood Like To Play are the best examples. The duo’s rhymes are always thoughtful and full of poetry with a refreshing execution.
The duo will be as short-lived as the commercial success of the album, which will be the only one. A new EP was released in 1998, The Sight of Things, but it was still not a success. Nouka pursued a solo career under the pseudonym Sach before Yusef Afloat died tragically in a car accident in 2000. Besides these unfortunate events, this is another group that musical marketing will have restricted in its creativity. Luckily, the album recorded in 1990 will be re-released in 2018 for the pleasure of the most nostalgic of this alternative scene, but once again the magic has passed.