October 14, 2021

Gravediggaz "The Pick, The Sickle & The Shovel" (October 14, 1997)

After the arduous ordeal of the latest Wu-Tang Clan album, you'd imagine the RZA would take some time off, perhaps potter around in the garden, tend to his geraniums... Hardly. No-one doubts that the RZA is the hardest-working producer in rap, a foul to the in-built laziness of west coast contemporaries like Dr Dre who can barely manage a new album every two years, but this saturation is specific to New York. Public Enemy took years off their commercial achievements by hogging the airwaves, and if the fickleness of rap audiences has taught us anything in the '90s, it must be the ever-widening quest for something new. Maybe that's why Gravediggaz have sough not to repeat the Hammer-inspired horrorcore of their debut, 'Six Feet Deep'. Gangsta rap itself has dealt 'reality' the kind of horrors even Vincent Price and Christopher Lee would have had trouble realizing. So 'The Pick, The Shovel & The Sickle' is a change of tack, a re-evaluation. Out go the impatient tones of 'Six Feet Deep' -- all thudding percussion and insistent bass -- replaced by the moodiness of tracks like 'Dangerous Mindz' and 'Hidden Emotions.' Revisit their sophomore LP below...

The RZA and Prince Paul certainly seem to have woken up to the fact that the deeper hip-hop searches for 'reality', the more fantastical its descent into urban ridicule. So 'The Pick..." amalgamates the pseudo-Islamic philosophy of the Wu as well as the educated contemplation of De La Soul. The inclusion of some Neolithic imagery -- another metaphor for the dark seediness of New York's urban areas -- also bodes well or a greater understanding of rap. But there's something else here, a romanticism with African-American lore. And pain. The Gravediggaz understand fine well rap's global reach -- where whites yearn to be black, and blacks blacker still. 'The Pick...' gives out everything it promises, but often at a cost. In short: imagine taking two of hip-hop's greatest auteurs and asking them to record an album together. This would surely be it -- convolutes in aesthetic, but always a sum of its individual parts. - Hip Hop Connection (November, 1997). It a gem?