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Two hip-hop crews in one, Goon Squad represents the union of Little Rock's Soul City Beats with the Fayetteville/Conway collective Arkatext.
With more than 12 MCs and DJs involved in the project, “G.S.M.F.” is one of the most diverse hip-hop discs this state has produced. There's something here for everyone. The title cut “G.S.M.F.” and “Ark's Finest” are bouncing club tracks. “Low Down & Dirty” mixes a P-Funk style chorus with old-school verses reminiscent of Kurtis Blow or Funky Four + 1. Lovers of crate digging will recognize that “Drug Luv” samples its hook from Crosby, Stills and Nash's “Wooden Ships.” “Get Down” and “Forgotten” showcase spooky underground textures, and fans of lo-fi keyboard sounds will enjoy cuts like “Main Girl” and “Do It 2-Nite.”
Each MC has a unique flow and the lyrical topics range from thug life (“move crack like the March of Dimes”) to light pop culture wordplay (“eyeballing with the Care Bear Stare”). The shifts are almost schizophrenic, as the lightest track, “Low Down & Dirty,” is right next to the darkest, “Drug Luv.” The lyrical density and intelligence shine through, though it may take a few listens before you catch lines like “if all the world's rappers turned to animal crackers, I'm guessing you'd be a wolf, because your flow is backwards.” The group's collective vocabulary includes words like “homeostasis” just to keep you on your toes. Arkansas in-jokes abound as the drinking anthem “So Much” gives a shout out to golfer John Daly.
There are limitations to what the album can accomplish: It's something of a sampler platter, so fans of any one camp of hip-hop may not find the entire disc to their liking. The production quality, while impressive for an independent recording, won't be competing for airplay with the major label rappers any time soon. The record hints at what could be accomplished with a bigger budget. The talent is certainly there.
A word must be said about the group's live show, for which the disc should be considered a promotional device, and not vice versa. Goon Squad comes alive at a show, running and passing like NBA all-stars (literally in the case of the Arkatext MCs, who've been known to bring out a basketball for one of their tunes). It would have been easy for self-aggrandizing MCs to run over each other in competition, but teamwork is the key for Goon Squad. Everyone takes turns and supports one another. If that's any indication for Arkansas hip-hop, the future is bright indeed.