Five Deez: Kommunicator

With 'Five Deez' an abbreviation of 'Fifth Dimension,' it's no surprise the hip-hop quartet from Cincinnati—Fat Jon, Pase Rock, Sonic, and Kyle David—brings an ethereal vibe to its electronic boom bap, whether it be 2001's Koolmotor (Counterflow), 2003's Kinkynasti (Studio !K7), or its latest release, the 50-minute Kommunicator. Produced, mixed, and arranged by Fat Jon (Jon Marshall aka The Ample Soul Physician, Maurice Galactica, and Pole contributor), the album intersperses eleven mostly vocal cuts with an occasional instrumental break. It's distinguished not only by lyrical content (Marshall wanted the record to sound like a radio message or transmission of indeterminate origin translated into a hip-hop record) but by the meticulous craft of its constructions. Some songs ooze a sparkling melodic vibe that recalls CYNE (“Let the People Know,” “When the Silence is Gone”) while others range over diverse terrain like soul-jazz, funk, and drum & bass (check out the lethal cobra pulse that accompanies silken synths and barking choruses in “Fugg That”).

The title cut begins the album with a ruminative jazz intro of arco bass and piano before subtly morphing into a chattering soul-jazz groove of squealing synths, handclaps, and insistent cymbal pulses with the group trading smooth turns at the mic. A lulling, serpentine beat and soulful male-female harmonies nurture a dreamy vibe in “Black Rushmore” with Fat Jon's relaxed flow nicely complementing the mellow feel while the pumping “So Good” finds Five Deez momentarily wresting the maximum-number-of-words-in-a-single-song verbosity record from Busdriver. The poppy boom-bap of “BMW” is made memorable by a strong female vocal hook while “Fifth Degree” sounds like a Latin-soul instrumental beamed down from some other galaxy, with flutes and bright synths streaming across a huge expanse.

The group's fresh sound isn't hard core but progressive in the best sense of the word, plus its thoughtful lyrical stance leaves the rap clichés (materialist boasting, misogyny) to others, though that doesn't prevent the group from lapsing into occasional banality (“Check it out y'all / In the house y'all / Check it out y'all / So I can show the flow and let the people know” from “Let the People Know” won't win any awards for originality). Admittedly the album's first half is noticeably stronger, with less distinguished pieces like “From Sorrow” emerging in the second half. “Sapphire,” for example, presents an appealingly atmospheric night-time groove deepened by harp swirls, but it's melodically unmemorable, and, though Five Deez spices the driving instrumental “The Last Time” with vaguely Eastern flavour and haunted voices, it's ultimately a merely so-so outro. Despite such late inning lapses, however, the album's strengths clearly outweigh its weaknesses, making Kommunicator a spacey trip well worth taking.

February 2006