In a City Paper preview on Jean Grae earlier this year, writer Brentin Mock took to task some backpackers for whom hip hop could be a passing phase because they're too wussy to visit East Liberty. But if Squirrel Hill is too far gone for true hip hop, I wonder what Mock would make of a dedicated bunch of heads from all the way out in Washington County? Elevated Mindz -- a crew composed of deejay/producer DramaJ and emcees Tymez and Random Sample -- busts Mock's theory by mentioning all of Pittsburgh's proper hip-hop places to visit (Jerry's, 720 Records, Brave New World), but they're also not afraid of all-night sprees at Wal-Mart and Eat'n Park.
It would be clichéd to merely say that Eminem spawned this bunch of skilled suburban rhymesayers -- more likely, it's a variety of influences, from De La and Public Enemy to newer cats like EL-P and Slug. On the one hand, they mine the cerebral efforts of their peers: stripped-down production snatched from old breaks at the used record store, and abstract lyrics such as on "Dayz": "Big bang theory / revolving in the universe / reproducing asexual / planets predict irony / gravitational pulls the fools / while paranoia turns the evolution schools" is a prime example of their futurist outlook.
"I'm under 'the future' in the Webster Dictionary," they proclaim on "Rooftops," as if they know their style of hip hop holds one key to survival of the species. "WDYDWL" is not just heady, but downright scientific (remember Downtown Science?) with "not oxygen, photosynthesis / breathing through a respirator / still talkin' like a hater" explaining how they live for the communal energy of the live hip-hop show.
Apocalpytic rhymes are augmented by the strength of strings, and an occasional injection of "emo" rap a la Atmosphere on "Last" ("sometimes I write these songs just to ease the pain") is balanced by a bit of macho skullthuggery on "Love," where we can only hope that talk about "spraying my nine" and "pulling my gun out the holster" is metaphorical. Thankfully, there's zero bling-bling to go with it -- suburban existence is pleasant ("we just hungry / we ain't starving") if a tad too homogenized ("my town doesn't like the way I talk") for a hip-hop lifestyle.
Other highlights are the unusual triplet cadences and Middle Eastern theme on "Water," as well as "Puzzle," where guest emcees Dos Noun and Mic Language (of Deadly Scribes) expound on "rapping is my anti-drug / hip hop is my cancer." With graffiti-inspired album art, this is no group of amateur high school kids, but some "20 years young" cats with a bit of a competitive edge over many groups from the center city. With the realm of rap so fragmented by infighting, you could hate this, but it's difficult to denigrate this, because Elevated Mindz definitely seem to know what they're doing.