In 2012, Gnarboots released an album, a collaboration LP with Destroy Nate Allen, a mix tape and now, Gnarboots bassist Bob Vielma is releasing his first hip hop mix tape, Life's a Gas, under his Boboso moniker. Is Gnarboots the Wu-Tang of weirdo punk rock? On Life's a Gas Boboso reigns in the wackier Gnarboots tendencies, but retains his slightly off-kilter persona that thankfully separates his West coast raps from the gamut of mediocre Cali tapes.
Immediately, Boboso distinguishes himself with the track opener, "Ya Boy Boboso." Built around a swinging prohibition-era jazz beat, Boboso brags in a rusty tenor delivery about his luck with the ladies on a global scale while a ragtime clarinet whirls in the background. Since A Tribe Called Quest, hip hop has made persistent use of jazz samples, but usually, those jazz samples focused on the more avant garde work of jazz legends like John Coltrane, Miles Davis or Stan Getz. By contrast, instead of working a smooth jazz line into his music, Boboso basically steals an entire old-old-old school jazz bar tune and raps on top of it, at times, almost resembling the rat-a-a-tat-a-tat delivery of songs like "Puttin' on the Ritz." It's a clever mix that just might show that hip hop started earlier than 1976...or 1973…or pick whatever date you like. The circular nature is compounded by the fact that between the prohibition beats, Boboso drops Biz Markie and Digital Underground quotes that snap perfectly into the swinging trumpets.
He continues the experimentation with "The New Deal" that works equally well. With references to FDR, Boboso, in a sort of late Beastie Boys style, makes the completely unhip and out of touch seem beyond hip. Such a feat is only possible through dedication and willingness to acknowledge the inherent silliness of one's self, and Boboso pulls them both off with effortless charm.
Doubtlessly, the album is very much a Northern California hip hop release. The majority of tracks are built off a chassis of old school, thumping drums at medium tempo while relaxed soul and funk samples give the works body. But, thank God, Boboso eschews the cliche-beyond-cliché Northern Cali troupes of smoking weed, having hip hop save one's life, smoking weed and more weed smoking. Instead, Boboso's slightly unhinged perspective pulls the listener into his world of parties, burritos and booties. While some hip hoppers might brag about the amount of buddha they smoke, Boboso brags about his nacho technique with "Give me that guacamole / Hell yeah I'm double dippin'." Instead of relaying a play by play of sexual conquests, Boboso merely says to his conquest, "I'ma take you home and get explicit." It's fun and innocent. The effect is multiplied when he both brags and makes fun of himself, referring to his Mexican heritage with "I got a pancho, it ain't no prada…"
At one point, Boboso nearly comes too close to the easy going. Often, emcees who aren't really from the streets get lost in the typhoon of "nerd core" which is as limiting as it is annoying. On "Blame It On the Synthehol," Boboso and Adam Subtractum drop so many Star Trek references that it's less knowing wink and more Star Trek fan fiction…Star Trek SEX fan fiction. But, because the "geeky" references are limited to this track more or less, and because it's so well crafted, it adds another level of weirdness to the release instead of chopping it down to another tribute to nerdy stuff. (Don't get me wrong, I love the nerdy stuff, I'm just a little weary of the gimmick of mashing hip hop with it.)
If the release does falter, it's that while all the songs are well crafted, they all have a similarly, easy going atmosphere. With the exception of the Paul's Boutique-ish funk backbone of "Hella Communication," the whole album seems to have the purpose of helping one chill out. Still, some more extremity in both tempo and sonic texture would take the release from being a mix tape to an album proper.
Still, the mix tape goes out with a bang. On "I'm the best," Jesse Michaels (Classics of Love, Operation Ivy, Common Rider) drops in to blast out battle raps to Joe Esposito's "You're the Best," from the Karate Kid soundtrack, and slices upon the competition with the deadly, "I'm the best, and you're just an asshole / I saw you fucking up from the tower of my castle!" Fittingly, the mix tape winds up with Boboso bragging about his style and ability to get women. But, he's so likable, and so confident despite the inherent questionable source of his boasts, it's hard not to want Boboso's brags to be real. Sometimes the good guy does win.
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