Year of the Album — #004
Sims – “Bad Time Zoo”
Doomtree Records (2011)
Similar Albums: Pocket Dwellers – “Digitally Organic” (Independent, 2002)
Atmosphere – “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having” (Rhymesayers, 2005)
With it’s heavily African-inspired jazz-oriented beats and Sims’ incredibly tight, complex flow, there’s a great deal to love about Bad Time Zoo. It’s rare that an underground hip-hop album will have this distinct a theme running through its lyrics, but Sims does an amazing job recapping his world as it stands in this world where we’re all immediately interconnected with the global community – we can be immediately knowledgeable about a great deal without ever really understanding any of it, even down to the decay of our own communities. This is an album with a lot to say, and Sims says it with intelligence and creativity. This may be the best hip-hop album you’ll hear in 2011 and it’s coming out in Februrary!
“Burn It Down” and its accompanying video are the highlight of the album and they lay out Sims’ modus operandi perfectly: “Welcome to the Veldt,” he says at the end of the song, after showing us a world of urban decay and “community” in which the only way we can really save ourselves is by letting go, burning everything down and rebuilding from the ashes. “What will you call your home, what will you call your own?” he asks. “Where will you lay them bones? Oh no, the bell just tolled … this is heaven, this is home, this is heaven, this is hell.” We’re in a world where we’re all connected digitally, he implies, but we’re not connected to our communities physically, so they’re rotting from the inside.
He furthers the argument on “Bad Time Zoo,” implying that “generation now” wants to get everything at once without actually being willing to invest anything to get it. On “One Dimensional Man” he flows over a tight snare-and-guitars beat of liberal hypocrisy in the modern age: “Rules are the same, we’re speaking double-think, with the action based on guilt holier-than-thou type thing. But you did your part! You gave your hundred bucks to NPR, you joined the co-op now, you bought the hybrid car. Switched to “peace” coffee, went to three rallies, then wiped your hands with sanitized solution – good deeds tallied.”
The album’s full of amazingly catchy tracks, and they’re not all so deadly serious. “Love My Girl,” for instance, has the hook to sell to radio, as Sims raps about his girl and how much he loves her because she’s “as bad as baboon,” making him feel warm and sexy because she’s more fucked up than he is. Okay, so it’s not exactly classy to hear him rapping about her getting high on Oxycontin and going on an alcohol-fueled bender, and how that makes him love her even more, but it sure beats the normal “Smack That Ass” mentality of the Akons of the world.
And on the hidden track after “Hey You,” he raps somberly about that same girl’s near-death experience. She’s in desperate need of a heart transplant and they’ve found a six-point match. But the heart is rejected, and he’s left by her bedside arguing with God about why he’d put her through all this. “When she awoke, she thought she was dead – and that thought plagues my head! So damn all the Demerol to hell! I’m face to face with the devil himself … or God at her most masochistic. It’s probably neither, just came from the ether.” By the end of the song we can hear him growing more and more desperate as his girl suffers in front of him and there’s nothing he can do about it. “I believe in life like I believe in death,” he says, “but I’m not ready for hers just yet. I can’t believe in what I can’t see, that’s just my nature; so picture me pleading with my maker – like, ‘God please save her! Or if you’re gonna take her then just take her, but save her from the terror that breaks her.’” It’s one of the most wrenching ,moving experiences you’ll ever have listening to a hip-hop track, and it’s a worthy finish to an incredible album.
Here’s hoping Doomtree Records has the push to get this album out to the wide audience it deserves. There may be something in the water in Minneapolis, considering the amazing underground hip-hop scene which has developed there over the last decade. Whatever it is, Sims’ Bad Time Zoo has something to say and gets its points across with beats that blend jazz and world-beat with modern flair that would set radio on fire if anyone had the balls to play these songs. Regardless, Bad Time Zoo is the first must-hear hip-hop album of 2011, and it’s an early contender for my year-end top ten.
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