Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Lifesavas (made up of rapper Vursatyl and producer/rapper Jumbo The Garbageman) have made one of 2007′s best hip-hop albums with their latest release Gutterfly. Drawing inspiration from blaxploitation films and other sources, Gutterfly features a surprising array of guest stars and top-notch lyrics and production. It’s positive and socially conscious without being preachy or pretentious.
Similar to great hip-hop albums like De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead, Gutterfly is a concept album. The intro, “Welcome To Razorblade City,” introduces listeners to this album’s world. Razorblade City takes the place of Portland on this album while the members of Lifesavas take on other personas. Vursatyl became Bumpy Johnson and Jumbo The Garbageman became Sleepy Floyd. Interludes between songs tell the story of the two characters and how they tried to survive and thrive in the hood.
There are no real skits on the album and unlike something like Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves, none of the songs have the Lifesavas or guests really rapping in character. However, the songs on Gutterfly adhere to the themes present in the album’s “story.”
“Double Up,” the album’s first real song, turns some simple vocal samples into a beat layered with flute and other sounds. The song deals with the risks and choices you make in life. This might make you think that the song is somewhat serious or downbeat. On the contrary, Lifesavas use some fun wordplay and lyrics to get the message across. The real highlight of this song is the final verse where Vursatyl and Jumbo go back and forth. It sounds sort of like a routine, the way the two of them play off each other here. What makes it better is that they realize this mid-verse and give us references to classic comedy routines (Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?”) and classic cons (the shell game).
Legendary group Fishbone contributes to “Dead Ones,” a song that sounds a lot more upbeat than the title suggests. The pouding drums and the sing-songy chorus (“La la la la la la la la… / To my dead ones.”) help mask the bleakness of the first parts of the song: “…And there’s no survival / Snuffed out underachievers / Consumed with self-denial / Told them they wouldn’t make it / And they believed it….” However, a sung breakdown in the middle tells the song’s real message: “We strive / Keep a dream alive / When your dream dies / You got to bring it back to life….”
One of the album’s best tracks is the heartfelt “Long Letter.” This song has Lifesavas directing their verses to people who are no longer with them. While the song starts off about people who have passed on, it really takes a turn when they direct their verses to a friend who is serving in Afghanistan. The two verses at the end of the song capture many of the feelings of the families of those who serve in the military. The shock at (and acceptance of) someone going into military service is talked about here: “How could you risk your life as a full-fledged G.I.? / It hurt at first / Understand / But see I / Respect the path you chose as a man….” As are the worries and sleepless nights for those who are left behind: “It’s a war goin’ on / Oh and / We watching CNN just prayin’ you come back again….”
Gutterfly is an excellent album that proves that socially conscious doesn’t always mean cerebral and boring. Lifesavas have crafted an album that’s fun and intelligent, things that are usually mutually exclusive in hip-hop today. This album should not be forgotten when it’s time to make the Best of 2007 lists.