“Too Much On Mind”
“Just When You Thought It Was Safe”
“Teachers, Don’t Teach Us Nonsense”
“Where Do We Go From Here”
In the past critics have reduced L.O.N.S.’s debut A Future Without A Past (Elektra, 1991) to the sum of Charlie Brown’s shrieks, Busta’s growls, and Dinco’s non-sequiters. But are their exuberant Cold-Crush-like deliveries, which admittedly sustain a jovial mood, consistently matched with a carefree tone? Does showmanship soften the urgency of their message? Years later, I find it difficult to listen to Future and hear only frivolity. While some songs (“Feminine Fatt” springs to mind) celebrate youthful caprice, many defy this trend, even as raucous choruses and ad-libs give way to hilarity.
On Future, the interplay between song structure, vocal styling, and lyrical content is enticingly complex. “Case of the P.T.A.” and “The International Zone Coaster” present the what of delinquency and truancy and mostly leave it at that. Yet the similarly rambunctious “Teachers, Don’t Teach Us Nonsense,” hints at the why behind rebellion. Namely, a festering resentment for miseducation coupled with a tangible anxiety for a future of rapidly disintegrating options.
But let’s backtrack. The who and where are also important.
The group’s families all emigrated from NYC to Long Island’s “Black Belt.” They settled in the hamlet of Uniondale where low-rise, single family dwellings rest on tree-lined streets. By many accounts, however, the Black Belt’s idyll was quickly marred by soaring living expenses, declining wages, an influx of lower-income residents, white flight, housing segregation, and a gradual decline in the quality of government services, particularly in the area of education. While Busta credits the relative ease of life in this town as a catalyst for creativity and ambition the stage was set for the Leaders to address issues of concern to the larger black collectve.
Luckily, L.O.N.S. rested one town away from Public Enemy. After honing dance and rap routines in the schoolyard at their junior high school they became the unofficial studio apprentices of The Bomb Squad‘s Eric “Vietnam” Sadler. They sat in on sessions at the “Spectrum City” studio in neighboring Hempstead, learning recording and production techniques and receiving a strict but caring education in conceptualizing and structuring songs. The grueling in-studio baptism of fire that Busta recounts fondly as a formative experience may have included instruction in black power ideologies, or even just the incorporation of protest into music.
I feel such speculation is safe because the structure of their early music reflects an ethos of unity and progression. During their 1993 interview on British radio show â€œMax Nâ€™ Dave,â€ their vocal synchronicity (which they demonstrate on-air in the course of unscripted conversation) is explicitly linked to a program of communal uplift. Just as they were mentored and constructively critiqued by PE, they consciously viewed their ascent in the music industry as a means to provide mentorship and employment to their fellow Uniondale brethren.
Their commitment to this ethos is evident in their frequent inclusion of Geranimo (later of Rumpletilskinz fame) in early press appearances and performances but also throughout the lyrics of their first album. On â€œToo Much On My Mindâ€ Charlie Brown laments â€œminimum wage in the age of the futureâ€ while Dinco D relates that $99.95 will not buy â€œfresh.â€ These grievances point to the looming possibility of downward mobility, a figurative castration for the children of hard-working immigrants. Such inner-ring suburban concerns are not petty. On â€œTeachers, Donâ€™t Teach Us Nonseneâ€ they rage against an educational system that fails to prepare them for a 21st century where retail employment will not cover oneâ€™s daily needs.
A Future Without A Past is the story of a collective, a culture, and a rap group struggling for recognition and inclusion while resisting assimilation as time advances unabated.â€œTransformersâ€ insists that the failure to increase future earning potential through the pursuit of unerring perfection leaves one susceptible to peer pressure. â€œJust When You Thought You Were Safeâ€ is a stern warning that real dangers are already steadily encroaching on their Long Island bubble, while â€œWhere Do We Go From Hereâ€ see L.O.N.S. plotting the next steps to ensure longevity in a crassly profit-obsessed industry. The long-term effectiveness of the L.O.N.S. credo is questionable given the group’s dissolution but the attempt to incorporate it into the music is apparent even where shouting and silly noises dominate.
TO BE CONTINUED
Don’t forget to peep Roy’s compilation of non-album L.O.N.S. cuts.