Is it more useful to laze around, whining about the lack of respect given to Pittsburgh hip hop, or to actually do something about it? On their second full-length album, the Dreadnots chose the active role. A group of two producers and two emcees with a contact address in 15212, the Dreadnots create a dense, atmospheric production mode (layers of futuristic bleeps, brittle beat-shuffling and foreboding ambient din) reminiscent of the Anticon Collective -- to the point where main emcee Oblio takes a page from the off-kilter, stuttering cadences of Anticon leaders Sole and Dose One.
This obvious influence probably indicates that indie-rock college-radio types might be more into the Dreadnots than are the Native Tongues crowd, but whoever ignores this CD as being too "backpacker" is missing the perspective from which this style can represent the 412 as readily as some cat who worships Black Thought or Talib Kweli. The production is tight and ear-opening on almost every track ("Walking and Falling" amusingly samples Fred Rogers), and the turntable skills are in evidence as well, albeit in more of a concretist manner than is normal for a hip-hop album.
Oblio's lyrics don't always rhyme, but constantly challenge, from the way "Known Friends" invokes stream-of-consciousness everyday Pittsburgh ("waiting at a bus stop on the North Side ... for the 54C to arrive") to purposefully oblique references to current issues, such as the Iraq debacle and the oil crisis. Meanwhile, fellow emcee David Kaminski mercilessly targets the scene's obsession with correct politics over talent -- vegans "eating trees" and "91 hipsters" who "celebrate local mediocrity."
With divisive statements such as those, the Dreadnots surely aren't looking to be adored by the underground. But the group's outlook at least reflects a willingness to rise above the self-deprecating goop that infects the minds of Pittsburghers and to try something different for a change, regardless of reaction. "I am accepting the nomination for the un-emcee," Oblio says, and he just might receive one if this tree falls in the forest and nobody listens.