By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
Mike Ladd is hip-hop's Baz Luhrmann and its Alvin Toffler. A maniacally brainy, thirtysomething lyricist-producer, Ladd fashions Luhrmannesque opera from a crude mash of classic material and current mediums, then embeds 'em like Toffler with modern Alvin philosophical meaning. If MTV wanted for the Beyoncé/Mos Def Carmen to turn out any good, they should've let Ladd direct it; same goes for the defanged slaves who were once Rage Against the Machine. Ladd thinks big, beyond bling.
With a conceptual trilogy on the mythic battle between the indie Infesticons and the jiggy Majesticons for control of hip-hop's soul - of which the Majesticons' Beauty Party is the non-resolvable middle chapter - Ladd is creating hip-hop culture's Ill-iad, its Funkentelechy vs. Placebo Syndrome affair. He molds questions of art and capitalism into a comprehensive world theory. Then, he spray-paints it in the most vibrant colors possible. Cambridge, his birthplace, meets the Bronx, his home.
Even if you read all the liner notes, and are familiar with the tale's first part, 2000's Gun Hill Road, in which the Infesticon crew struck a blow against the Majesticons, staying on top of the narrative can be hopeless. Following Ladd's imagistic aspirations down every alley is like citing an album's worth of Bomb Squad samples. And works this sprawling can be messy, pretentious affairs.
Yet they're also filling and taste great. Ladd's sonics rock different schools of laptop funk, from Cash Money's booty bounce to Kid 606's dada destructo-art. His grad-school storytelling vernacular, and the skills of the assembled cast (which includes Def Jux luminaries El-P, Vast Aire and Murs), ignites with the greatest possibility of posse records. Like life, hardly anything about this Asimov-scale world is small.