21Jan/09120

L.O.N.S. And The Crisis Of Time, Part 1

“Too Much On Mind”
“Transformers”
“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 “Max N’ Dave,” 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 “Too Much On My Mind” Charlie Brown laments “minimum wage in the age of the future” while Dinco D relates that $99.95 will not buy “fresh.” 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 “Teachers, Don’t Teach Us Nonsene” they rage against an educational system that fails to prepare them for a 21st century where retail employment will not cover one’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.“Transformers” insists that the failure to increase future earning potential through the pursuit of unerring perfection leaves one susceptible to peer pressure. “Just When You Thought You Were Safe” is a stern warning that real dangers are already steadily encroaching on their Long Island bubble, while “Where Do We Go From Here” 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

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120 Responses to “L.O.N.S. And The Crisis Of Time, Part 1”

  1. Anonymous Coward says:

    Great topic as usual. But were the "gritty streets of Uniondale" crucial to that album?

  2. T.R.O.Y. says:

    I can't tell if some of these comments we receive are serious or not, but I'll bite.

    The streets of Uniondale were hardly "gritty" by anyone's account but the community was clearly changing during the late '80s and early '90s. There is no doubt that the level of schooling received by students in that school district, for example, lagged far behind majority-white districts in the area, and that the low-income population of the Hamlet increased steadily during this time. Add that to the fact that Busta, Dinco, and Charlie Brown were the children of NYC transplants and you get a situation where they are barely removed from urban decay, an dbeginning to witness it creep, however subtly into their everyday lives. They chose to rap about their lives in Uniondale – the good and the bad so the importance of Uniondale to the album isn't really up for debate. I can't imagine the album without "Case of the PTA" or "International Zone Coaster" or "Sobb Story". It's not as if those songs required its writers to have grown up specifically in Uniondale to have written them, but they did, and they chose to write about it.

    However, as I pointed out, Uniondale is most important as the town in between Roosevelt and Hemnpstead. This exposed them to the nascent LI rap scene, gave them easy access to whatever was happning in NYC, and put them in touch with Public Enemy and the bomb Squad.

  3. AaronM says:

    Fantastic essay, Thun. You really did your research.
    I would definitely argue that the Uniondale setting is important to provide a context for the album.

  4. Hugo Alexandre says:

    SO DOPE. Keep writing shit like this.

  5. Johnny says:

    Uniondale is horrible now. I teach music production, DJing, and music/vocal lessons at a Community Youth Center in Uniondale and the gang violence is ridiculous. Being that I'm originally from the Bronx and attended school with Brown and Dinco (Busta was a few years younger than us) I can attest to the fact that little by little Uniondale was becoming in essence, a ghetto. My brother in law was beaten to death by 2 car loads of gang members for absolutely no reason whatsoever coming home from the Puerto Rican day parade. Deaths are occuring with alarming frequency. There are many "white picket fences" with Graffiti all over them. When I first moved to Uniondale in the early 80's it was cool but white flight was definitely in effect. By the time Brown and I graduated in 1988 the High School was predominantly black, there were constant fights between Uniondale and Hempstead, and the 98 Posse would frequently roll through to check cats. Being an original member of L.O.N.S. prior to them being named such and a member of PE, I can attest to the fact that YES, L.O.N.S. were definitely conscious of the socio-political stance of their songs.

    P.E.ace.

    Johnny "Juice" Rosado
    Boogie Down Bronx Alum
    Uniondale Representer

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    Straight up, this should be on OH WORD!

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    ^What does it matter where it's posted? — Thun

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