Label: Definitive Jux
There are so many variables in what makes a group a success versus a failure that it’s sort of amazing anyone with talent ever makes it through. Take Company Flow; following the underground success of their single “8 Steps to Perfection” and the ensuing Funcrusher EP, they had major labels falling over themselves to sign them. The group eventually landed on Rawkus, a label that would ultimately prove itself to possibly be the biggest disappointment in hip-hop history, housing a stable of insanely talented groups that it did little more than neglect. Of course, Company Flow were one of the groups that fell by the wayside, forgotten by the masses. While individual members El-P and Mr. Len would go on to some indie success, namely with their respective labels Definitive Jux and Dummy Smacks, it isn’t an overstatement to say that no single member of the group has been able to match the heights Company Flow so easily reached.
I could wax poetic about the importance of Company Flow’s Funcrusher EP, but the fact that its recent Definitive Jux reissue more than stands the test of time says more than I could ever hope to. This was a group that was weirder, funnier and more intense than anyone else around, then or now. For all his idiot savant one-liners, Lil’ Wayne could never craft something as simultaneously hilarious and bizarre as “I drop so much shit/ My anus needs an icepack” from opener “Bad Touch Example,” nor would he probably even understand what the line “I’m so sick of these psycho-metaphors/ But I’d fuck Laura Ingalls/ Only after she’s done with her chores” even means. Company Flow were three ids run rampant, hurling surreal insults like other emcees name-checked.
But more than that, they were a perfect intersection of beat and flow, with El-P’s production as menacing as his rhymes. Slowed down to a pace that would be blasphemy nowadays, Company Flow sounded like a morphine-addicted Wu-Tang Clan with access to better studio equipment. Listen to “Collude/Intrude” and its broke-down robot synths, rubbing rumps with the dirtiest bass line of all time and drums that can’t seem to decide whether they want to stay together or fall apart, or “Population Control,” the only example on record of what being inside Ed Wood’s head must have been like, all bubbling lab equipment and atonal radar pings.
Even without label issues, Company Flow probably wouldn’t have ever been what you’d call a mainstream success. No, they were too adventurous, too chaotic for that. But there are traces of what others would ride to better success on Funcrusher Plus, such as the early 8-bit beats on “Blind” and “Vital Nerve.” This isn’t to say that Company Flow were merely ahead of their time or difficult, though; for all their experimentation and chaos, Company Flow were never less than enjoyable, more like a darker De La Soul than Glenn Branca doing Lil’ Wayne.
If you don’t already own Funcrusher Plus, this is perhaps the most important hip-hop reissue to pick up. Unlike other works that are now little more than curatorial curiosities, Funcrusher is still vital, still has so much to offer. The production is just as exciting as when it was first heard, the rhymes are still just as relevant. If anything, it might just have the side effect of making whatever hip-hop flavor of the week the indie tastemakers are promoting as safe for consumption appear to be even more drab and uninspiring than it already is.