Phi Life Cypher
Higher Forces

By Demented Toddler

Not so much Millenium Metaphors as sophomore similes, Phi Life Cypher return with their second attempt to break the record for the number of incidences of the word 'like' on an album. Higher Forces raises similar questions to their first release – can such a distinctive style be successfully drawn out over a whole album? Si Phili and Life were, apparently 'born on a multisyllabic planet', and their undisputedly impressive rapid delivery hasn’t changed much, nor does it vary a great deal through the course of the album. The repeated sixteen-bar verbal batterings they deliver risk devaluing their own effect, and this is addressed by the addition of less frantic US rapper Skit Slam, plus some stabs at toasting on the chorus. The former serves to break up the speed spitting of the original pair, but the toasting is not their forte, and sounds a little weak in comparison with those for whom it is a first language – Blak Twang was wise to bring in Jahmali for So Rotten.

Like their previous work, then, this is something of a curate’s egg, but when it’s good, it’s very good. Nappa’s consummate production creates menacing atmosphere on Real Raw and a surefire single on the moody-blues-sampling Free. He only falls short on The Desert, a concept track where the music is as patronisingly cliché-ridden as the lyrics – no match for Lewis Parker's 1998 Song of the Desert. One of the highlights, Over was infectious, clever fun when it was released around this time last year, and the remix here adds some rewarding Motown tweaks to a track where all three MCs are on top of their game. The equally blinding flip to that single, Cypher Funk, has not fared so well here, with most of the 'funk' surgically removed by cutmaster Mr Thing. The instrumental is far too relaxed for the rhymes, which start – 'I’m rapping lyrics underground like some supernatural ninjas / the ones who can handstand on the blade of a sword on the tips of their fingers'.

Wordsmithry this good is not uncommon on the album, but PLC lack consistency, and material as good as 'We’re fighting for freedom from all the street’s demons / supplying the serum that be sedating Satan’s semen' is let down by stuff as bad as 'so I’m walking with caution upon the battleground / I’m hoping I won’t be making the mutilated cattle sound'.

The Cypher’s love/hate relationship with violence is problematic. They incessantly trade off the cachet of fighting and war, almost always appearing to be battling some unheard generic wack MC just off stage ('fuck your weak flow') but this sits uncomfortably with their political sensibilities – most especially Life’s chastisement of 'Bush and Blair' back in February last year. While anti-war on the one hand, 'like Benjamin Zephaniah', phrases like 'See me desert storming your stage', and 'on the track make it collapse like the buildings attacked by Osama’s force' speak of relish for this kind of destruction. This contradiction is most apparent on 'war of words', which runs the risk of turning a song which condemns war into one which none-too-secretly enjoys it.

Perhaps it is only to be expected that battle raps should allude to real battles, though, and PLC are perhaps at their strongest live on stage, whether up against other MCs or no – Life’s freestyle sessions particularly are legendary, not to be missed. As for the Higher Forces, it’s worth putting up with its occasional failings for the lyrical and musical gems. And hey, they namecheck Thundercats and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
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