Album: Stress: The Extinction Agenda
Artist: Organized Konfusion
Released: August 16, 1994
Organized Konfusion’s sophomore effort, Stress: The Extinction Agenda is a cautionary tale to everyone who ever claimed that talent is all that you need to make it in the entertainment industry. Organized Konfusion was unlucky or perhaps foolhardy, to release this album in the same year that Nas, Biggie and Method Man dropped Illmatic, Ready To Die and Tical respectively. What was Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch’s loss was the hip-hop world’s gain, as The Extinction Agenda turned out to be one of the more underrated album that was lost in the sea of high-quality projects released in the early nineties. However, while this album still commands quite a following, especially amongst the circles of fan that reject the commercialism of modern rap, it is safe to say that in terms of quality this album is not quite on the same level as either the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers or Nas’ Illmatic or for that matter. It is not entirely a question of what they did wrong, but rather a question of what could have been done better. That this is not an album meant for the masses is made abundantly clear, however, that cannot and should not excuse some of the gaps that this album leaves uncovered. Naturally, this is subjective – thousands of hip-hop heads still swear by Monch and Po’s skills on the mic but I feel safe in saying that the average fan won’t fall in love with this album.
No one, not even the harshest critic, can question the lyricism on display here. Both members of the Queens’ duo have clearly taken great pains to craft together some of the most meaningful and intelligent verses in hip-hop, abstract but not to the point of alienation and above all, genuinely raw. The Extinction Agendawill never be mistaken for a happy album – the name itself should ensure that. While in large parts, the credit for that goes to the production and the beats, both artists nevertheless do deliver in terms of creating an atmosphere, and by extension, an album that lives up to both its own name and the name of the duo that created it. The lyrical ability here is simply amazing – what the album lacks in terms of positivity and light-heartedness, it more than makes up for with consciousness, intelligence and razor-edged sharpness. The message is clear; OK is here and they are peeling off layers from the society around them and exposing them albeit in an abstract way. Indeed, this seems to be the duo’s modus operandi, with each song having a rough theme or central idea that each MC chooses to interpret in occasionally different ways. What makes the lyrics themselves shine is how both MCs are able to describe the urban landscape, a topic that all hip-hop fans are extremely familiar with, in a manner that is new and interesting. They describe the ghetto as a psychological mine-field with dangers lurking on all sides, ready to hold down the aspirations of the youth, constantly trying to bolt them in one place. I found the guest stars to be a little extraneous; they did not perform poorly per se, however their presence was hardly crucial to the album’s success (or lack thereof). Largely, the guest stars were forgettable since their appearances were short and often overshadowed by OK themselves. It is unfortunate then, that those very MCs themselves occasionally failed to deliver despite writing the cleverest of rhymes; while their unique style did match the name and the theme of the album, it is nevertheless still disjointed and awkwardly abrupt and this becomes the biggest factor that keeps them from reaching the giddy heights that Nas, Biggie and Method Man have all reached in the same year.
The production is simply top-notch. With Pharoahe’s production, and Q-Tip’s more minor contribution, The Extinction Agenda has essentially two different types of sounds though with some variety in each type. The beats are well-made but never catchy; these are not the types of sounds that you will hear teens whistle in the streets. However, their unique style, with instruments coming in abruptly and unpredictable pauses and silences in the beats only serves to underline the meaning of Organized Konfusion. The unpredictability creates the confusion but on the whole, the process is organized and the final product is a combination of both. Some of the best tracks of the album have a dark, dreariness about them (‘Stress’, ‘The Extinction Agenda’ , ‘Stray Bullet’), a hectic paranoia or a manic urgency. They inspire scenes in the listener’s mind of drunken, trippy scenes from cartoons in the era, like the scene from Dumbo (see picture). The chaotic, disorienting nature of the music backing the MCs lyrics feels almost like a traffic heavy, melancholic autumn evening in New York City. There is also a certain tension that permeates the whole album, but is especially clear in these more dreary tracks. Take ‘Stress’ from example – the alternating string feels like a mind being pulled in different directions and being distorted. Of course, this is highly coherent with the subject matter of the song and that is something that can be seen throughout the album. There is another set of beats, less morose than the first, but still a good way away from happy and upbeat. These beats (like ‘Drop Bombs’ or ‘Why’) are simply more laidback but never positive and light. They are more introspective and calmer than the manic urgency of the former type of tracks.
The Extinction Agenda has some great tracks on it, though I would go so far as to say that only the titular ‘Extinction Agenda’ and ‘Stray Bullet’ are classics. ‘Stress’ could be up there too in the right mood, on the right day. My favorite of the lot however, has to be ‘Extinction Agenda’. Pharoahe Monche is definitely the stronger of the duo and he shows an effortless ability on the mic with lines like these:
“Six hours until dawn, my quest to capture the queen
without being seen by the pawns
Call me Bishop, bishop takes rook, rook takes pawn
pawn takes knight, knight takes queen
Queen takes the original King James version
I’m surgin up when I’m emergin”
He also asks the question that most, if not all, fans of hip-hop from the nineties find themselves asking themselves these days (this is from ‘Stress’):
“Why must you believe somethin is fact
Just because it’s played on the radio, 20 times per day?”
‘Stray Bullet’ is a song about the damage a stray bullet does to innocent bystanders and while no single or bunch of lines really do justice to the song, it is definitely worth hearing a few times just so you can fully appreciate the metaphor that OK has so masterfully constructed. However, I have to admit that the flow in ‘Stray Bullet’ could and should have been better and one gets the feeling that another MC could have delivered the same lyrics over the same beat better.
This album is definitely underrated, but it is not as strong an effort as rabid fan would have you believe. One leaves with the sense that better MCs, or to be fair, these same MCs later in their careers could have performed much better on this album that they could have at that stage in their development. It is a shame though that this album tends to get buried since there is some truly inspiring lyricism on display and top-notch production from an era where minimalism, creativity and intelligence were embraced, not shunned. However, the flaws in the album will leave some listeners wanting while others will in all honesty claim this as one of the best rap albums of all time. It can be confusing, but that’s also sort of the point.
|Title Track||Producer||Nodima Rating||My Rating|
|The Extinction Agenda||Organized Konfusion||4.25-5||4.94|
|Black Sunday||Organized Konfusion||5||4.63|
|Drop Bombs||Organized Konfusion||4-4.5||4.50|
|Bring It On||Organized Konfusion||5||4.44|
|Why||Organized Konfusion& Buckwild||4.5-5||4.88|
|Let’s Organize||Organized Konfusion||4-4.75||4.25|
|Keeping it Koming||Organized Konfusion||5||4.50|
|Stray Bullet||Organized Konfusion||5||4.56|
Nodima’s Overall Rating: 9.73/10
Overall Production Rating: 9.31/10
Overall Lyrical Rating: 8.91/10
Overall Enjoyment Score: 4/5
Overall Score: 8.89/10
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