8 03 2012

Binary Star
Masters of the Universe

The story behind emcee Senim Silla and One Be Lo’s astonishing masterwork is almost better than the actual music. Almost. The duo met in prison while serving armed robbery charges, and upon their release collaborated on 1999’s limited-edition LP Waterworld, produced for a paltry $500. The songs from that album would later be re-mixed for Masters of the Universe, combining a love for spoken-word style flows, sample-heavy intros, and jazzy beats. Released in 2000, at a time when Puff Daddy, Ruff Ryders, and rap-metal bullshit were all the rage, Binary Star’s uncompromising dedication to lyrical sophistication was revelatory. At 24 whopping tracks, the album should threaten overkill, or worse yet, an opportunity for the duo to intersperse a lot of filler, but every single song matters. It’s all part of the conceptual framework; smoothly clear rhymes barely reaching above a monotone, steady beats with a dash of piano, horns, occasional female vocals, and sharp-witted lyricism about reimagining hip-hop not just as a style of music, but also as a paradigm shift away from the mainstream rap establishment promoting bling, rims, and nonsensical violence. Sure, this wasn’t a new concept in hip-hop, from 80’s/90’s pioneers like KRS One A Tribe Called Quest advocating similar ideas, but Binary Star literally came out of nowhere and established themselves as true artists with a unique vision and considerable skills behind the mic. While the atmosphere here may be mellow, exemplified by the extensive use of piano loops, Silla and Lo’s passionate anger at both their own mistakes as well as the failings of the hip-hop community at large with overcoming negative stigmas can clearly be felt. Ironically, the members of Binary Star would continue to have troubles with the law and have yet to make another record. Nonetheless, Masters of the Universe is a truly great album, preserving Binary Star’s mythos as underappreciated transmitters of truth so often lacking in much of today’s watered down hip-hop scene.

“The KGB” by Binary Star

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