The sequencing of this album is a thing of beauty. Album-opener, "Introduction," introduces a possible alternate meaning for the band's name, 8090, which ostensibly refers to the duo's roots in Oakland and Seattle. Namely, with the lyric, "born in the 80's / raised in the 90's" (80 then 90 is 8090), you're well-prepared for the hip-hop to follow. The very next track, "Talk About It," tells us all about what 8090 are, and what they're not: On this album called Work Music, the MC's make it clear they won't be bragging on Watch the Throne-level racks on racks on racks -- but rather, they'll be hating on boss on boss on boss. Bosses, plural. Not one job, but three of 'em.
This would be a mere avenue for differentiation, but 8090 dives down so deep that, by the end, we're convinced that it not only sounds good, but also sounds right. Who can't get behind: "Work with the new girl / Hate that bitch / Fresh out of school / Her shit don't stink" ("Talk About It"); "Not to the point of rolling in dough of the soulless / Just to the point we don't owe shit" ("Golden"); and "What's rainy day money / When every day's a hurricane / I might as well be Gene Kelly / And sing and dance inside it, man" ("Pay Day").
Even crime is treated with nuance, presented as "Contemplations of a Side Hustle." Only a realistically-rendered rap persona first contemplates the crime (which is "servin' improv nerds 20 dollars a blunt"), and then pursues it only "on the side" of his day job. And 8090 is as funny as they are thoughtful. Check the hilarious originality of "Work Shirt," an unapologetic ode to the narrator's Cintas-style work shirt, e.g. "My fashion statement is / I'm employed."
Another standout track is "Girl at Home," which recounts efforts to keep at bay a female supervisor who admires male hires. Try futilely explaining it to someone who isn't listening, and hope it comes out as funny as: "It's like she won't understand, I got a girl at home / I got a girl / At home / You know, come to my home / You'll see my girl's name on the mailbox / She lives at that home." Perhaps Das Racist would have left it at that, but 8090 won't leave well enough alone, adding Buffalo Bill-style weirdness with a Silence of the Lambs allusion, "She's the basket to my lotion / Only she be tellin' me she wants to get a hose in."
But "City Lights" might be the coup de grace. After a beautiful Outkast-like hook, "Oh shine those city lights / On the streets of Chi / Working overtime / Where we own the night / Oh shine those city lights," we hear a narrative ending with our ambitious, hard-working MC working several jobs including graveyard finally admitting, "What I really wanted to do was rock the microphone / But most nights I just wanted to be home."
Simply put, 8090 is us. They live how we live. And fall like there's something to lose. (Because there always is.)
*** The author of this review, Michael Jones, plays the clapsticks for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8