I hate giving new artists a chance. I am so cynical about the current soundscape in hip-hop that the thought of downloading some alternative rock sample filled, airy weed lyric laced sing rapping gives me the chills. Most of the new “cool” artists that I have an obligation to like as a purveyor of hip hop oriented web content, I’ve never even listened to. When conversation of the 2010 XXL Freshman Class comes up, I can only name a handful of songs from about two of the artists, all the others might as well be polka singers. This is why it makes me very proud to say, that I LOVE PAC DIV.
I first ran into the Pac at last year’s “Converse Band of Ballers” celebrity basketball tournament, when Like, Mibbs, and BeYoung repped for the left coast and made a decent showing on the court against the likes of Asher, Ninjasonik, and Jim Jones. They were handing out their mixtape, and I dropped in my bag, sure that I would never listen to it. About a month later, something told me to check out the jewel case dust collector I’d ignored, so I imported it and hit play, and boy, am I glad I did. If this blog existed last Summer, this article would be an in-depth review of Church League Champions, complete with hyperbolic (yet justifiable) statements about how it was the best mixtape I’d ever heard and how it was as much a timeless and classic album as it was a banger of an introduction. But in order to do this project justice, I will try my best to refrain from dwelling on its predecessor.
…Not that Pac Div doesn’t invite us to. Don’t Mention It is a clear sequel to their debut mixtape, with old lines becoming new hooks, instrumental interludes becoming full tracks, and familiar refrains being called back and repackaged. It has the cadence and aura of a sophomore album, feeling more polished than its predecessor, and implying that this is the music they would have made then had they known what they know now. “Underdogs II,” the mixtape’s intro and a sequel to the interlude of the same name on Church, features Colin Munroe and boasts a more eclectic, alternative feel than the original. “We won’t stop, nah we won’t quit, nuh uh we won’t stop, yeah, we won’t lose” is still the message, but where the first time around the group sounded hungry and proud, this intro sounds victorious, with a sense of the finish line being in sight.
The rest of the tape echoes this relationship to its forerunner. It opens with the triumphant “It’s On,” a braggadocios declaration that the team has arrived and aims to distinguish themselves from the crowd. The bars are still here, with the group trading lyrical bench-presses as viciously as ever on the mixtape’s single “Shine” (featuring the fantastic hoodrat-esque vocals of Marz Lovejoy). Group member Like sets the track off and doesn’t disappoint: “Let the champs hold the title/ The truth like I got my right hand on the Bible/ You saw us change over from your boys to your idols/ Now watch us take over like the 4th Quarter Michael.” Pac Div retains their attitude, consciousness and humor, spitting muted honesty about the stress of blue collar manhood on “Here We Go” (with a chilling Pac verse that doesn’t feel contrived), and lamenting females of the avian variety on “Birds,” enlisting help from “Trap Goin Ham” rapper Pill. In-house producer Swiff D delivers once again, seamlessly blending southern-influenced 808s with distinct west coast lackadaisical sounds and occasional soul sampling. His beats give the group an ambidextrous edge and highlight their versatility; Pac Div sounds just as comfortable (and dope) over boom-bap as they do trap. When the high energy, drum driven “Broccoli” flows into an untitled MPC soul flip, which then transitions to the understated, gospel sampled “Overcome,” it somehow makes sense, and the group doesn’t miss a beat as they barely change vocal inflection over a drastically diverse soundscape.
But Don’t Mention It isn’t without its shortcomings. “Don’t Forget the Swishers,” featuring Dom Kennedy, cARTer, and Chip Tha Ripper, is a cool concept (the posse cut has become a sorely missed rarity in today’s game where collaboration falls second to saturation) but is executed poorly, its slow pace and lazy flows proving too lax to keep attention for its 6+ minutes timestamp. Sung hooks and occasionally campy subject matter sound like attempts to reach a larger mainstream audience, but don’t feel natural for the group. It is quietly evident that a major label deal has crept into the groups awareness (as it should), and at times the tape feels like a reach for an increase in fanbase as opposed to a gift to the one they’ve already solidified. Growth is always the goal, but as they inch into more pop-like territory they lose their footing, and one wonders how these minor hiccups will translate to their major label release, Grown Kid Syndrome.
Overall, Don’t Mention It is a superb follow up to their critically acclaimed flagship project. There’s something here for loyalist Pacific Division fans as well as those new to the group, and their sound has (for the most part) stayed authentic to the energy, humor, awareness and lyrical prowess their fans have come to love. The concept of Pac Div is such an anomaly in today’s rap game: they are a trio in an age of self aggrandization and egotism, they don’t come with any region specific movement, multiplatinum mentors or heavy list of pop features, and most people can’t even identify who’s who in the group. They have gained success boasting traits that seem to be afterthoughts for today’s artists: honesty and talent. On the mixtape’s title track, Like muses on the viability of the industry they look towards: “Some will judge you, some will treat you like an outcast, so do you have enough stamina to outlast? Another question, is it really all about cash? Well thank God we got OutKast.” More like thank God we got Pac Div.
Download Don’t Mention It here.