These days it’s rare to see young talent grab the music industry by the balls and try to yank them from their corrupted and aging host. However it is difficult to tell just how long these youngsters will last. The industry is unpredictable, with digital means of producing music outside of the studio and a “Do-It-Yourself” mentality that has been assumed by many musicians and rappers. Self-promotion, connections, flair and swag help, as exemplified by Odd Future (a group so carelessly pompous and offensive that they soar past the point of seriousness to elevate to new levels of “I don’t give a shit, they’re dope”). However, most of the new guys in rap manage to attach themselves to someone far more important. Although I would not compare Odd Future’s relationship with Mos Def to anything like Drake’s relationship with Wayne, having a public endorsement from a very important rapper has shown its benefits. However, when someone like Guy Harrison comes along, he’s more than just another rapper’s protégé lurking in the shadows until his big brother decides to thrust fame upon him.
Backhand Fam, consisting of rappers Harrison and Cartier Sims and producer MiGGZ, released their self-titled debut mixtape in December 2010. It was made mostly in a Syracuse dorm room, but sounds professional. This time, Harrison teams up with MiGGZ again to deliver The Deadline, a more mature and elaborate collection of songs that display Harrison’s versatility and cleverness more than its predecessor. MiGGZ has also expanded his style to fit Harrison’s rhyme delivery. Both MiGGZ and Harrison shine most on tracks like “Brotherly,” a wild attack of horns, furious drum line snare and beat drops that serve the rapper more than the beat itself (how it should be). Another lively track to be noted is “Clap Your Hands,” where Harrison raps, “In the lab I’m a chemist, no I’m like Popeye when he just ate spinach. Too strong on these songs, no steroids…” Harrison throws other relevant pop culture into the mix with references like “Now this ain’t Facebook, but you liking all my tracks, I’m upgrading the quality like Microsoft to Mac.” He also knows how to slap a smile on the listener as well, with lyrics like “I got bitches going mad like they got a broke nail, generational stories I’m spitting folktales.”
Whereas Backhand Fam was full of hard-hitting bangers meant for the college crowd to play in their cars on blunt rides, The Deadline often shows a more dramatic sound with more in-depth production techniques and an impressive amount of growth considering how closely the two mixtapes were released.
Some aspects of Harrison’s progress don’t go as far as they could. While MiGGZ and Harrison present a strong and stylized final product, the tape lags at certain points where it could be more dynamic. “Drums & Bars” awaits a beat drop that never comes. There is nothing wrong with leaving out a melody or solo percussion for a track, but this is the kind of deal where the rapper has to try to make up for what is missing, which Harrison does not attempt in this particular case. Generally these sparse beats prove an opportunity for the rapper to spit fast and continuously, but Harrison doesn’t depart from his normal style on the track.
The album also lacks hooks. Although the mixtape’s tone allows for more singing and melody, there are only a couple of tracks that have external vocals. Harrison and MiGGZ do well enough without bringing in singers to rely on, but they could do with a few more tracks like “Composure” and “Big Time,” which add a layer of emotion to the mixtape, improving on what Backhand Fam had little of.
Let us not forget that neither player on this team has reached 20 yet, and there is plenty of tricky lyrical content and on-point production that more than makes up for a lack of singing or potentially show-offy rap.
The mixtape concludes with a track called “24:7.” Immediately the beat, something Slick Rick would rap on if he was 18, lends itself to several different approaches. Fittingly, Harrison chooses the thoughtful route reflecting mostly on his past and future, his hopes and fallbacks. However, he leaves us in the present finishing with the line “Cuz I been working so hard and I’m just waiting till it pays off, but in the meantime you’ll never see me take a day off.” These guys have a very good perception of where they are and where they’re going. More Backhand Fam coming this summer.