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“Television and mainstream media dictate how the West Coast is perceived. And that influence carries over into the styles of dress, the street codes, and the ethics that have pervaded other markets. In the current state of L.A., there is a resurgence of talent that’s kind of do-it-yourself, more like a punk rock styled movement: how many people can you galvanize to support you and your brand and your movement? It’s taken some of the power away from the people who just want to collect a check and look the part of an artist, but not actually do the work and have the passion and conviction to do it properly. We should be called the Hughes Brothers for making a movie like this.”—Krondon, Strong Arm Steady.
Strong Arm Steady were originally an octet of West Coast staples, comprised of cipher-honed MCs, producers, and DJs who rose to counterbalance the heavy gang influence of L.A. rap in the 1990s. Past members/current affiliates include MCs Xzibit and Planet Asia, as well as beatmaker extraordinaire DJ Khalil, who produced four tracks on Strong Arm Steady’s forthcoming album, Arms & Hammers, dropping February 22nd on Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Records.
The modern-day incarnation of SAS is a trio: Los Angelenos Krondon and Phil Da Agony, and Mitchy Slick from San Diego. As a collective, SAS have flooded the block with more than a dozen mixtapes since 2003. Their full-length debut album, Deep Hearted, appeared in 2007, and 2009 saw the release of an innovative project called the Stoney Jackson LP, produced entirely by Madlib. But Arms & Hammers marks the group’s full-fledged arrival. Webpages and airwaves are already reverberating with singles “Trunk Music” featuring Game and produced by Lamar of 1500 or Nuthin –“a subwoofer-heavy, bang out in your car introduction to the sound of SAS” – and “On Point,” produced by Terrace Martin (Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa) and featuring Too Short, termed by Phil Da Agony the “Rakim of pimp rap.”
The heat doesn’t simmer from there. Breathe in “Gangsta’s” featuring Kobe, where “Kron, Mitch, and I depict the cities we grew up in,” states Phil. “We pay homage; it’s a record for everyone, not just gangstas. If you handle your business, you gangsta about things in your own way, like a Russell Simmons.” Indeed, take particular note of Krondon’s vivid verisimilitude laid over DJ Khalil’s sinister, Phantom of the Opera meets Prince of Persia production. Khalil also contributes the concrete-hardened collabo “When Darkness Falls,” featuring Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry: “We go outside of ourselves and speak on dark situations and bring light to them,” Krondon notes. “We are just being brutally honest.”
Speaking of brutal, heads will appreciate the microphone savagery of Kurupt on Terrace Martin’s “Blow My Horn,” and that of KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Chace Infinite and Planet Asia on “All My Brothers,” produced by Nottz. Elsewhere, note the stylings of West Coast crooner Jellyroll, and the cuts and interludes of landmark L.A. DJ Crazy Tunes, who oversaw the construction of Arms & Hammers. The intense labor of love isn’t lost on Krondon: “To put out a record of this magnitude, we felt like we had to be standing next to some of the pillars that hold up where we come from and where the music comes from, but yet show it in a light that’s relevant now. That’s not an easy thing to do. That’s why we didn’t mind taking our time with it, because it’s a responsibility and an honor to paint an accurate picture.”
Even the album title displays acute foresight, so much so that Strong Arm Steady are readying a short film to delve into its meaning. “Those who know the street will have their own interpretations of what Arms & Hammers means,” Kron intones. “But truly, if you think about building any foundation—occupational, physical, spiritual—it requires some sort of tool. There’s an arm and a tool used to create that structure. That embodies your work ethic, your strength, your consistency. People who go off and fight for their country, even their neighborhood, are following that same motto. The film focuses on the similarities between people despite different backgrounds or different approaches to survival. Those words signify the resources and tools you use in your everyday existence.”
So just what is Arms & Hammers? Depends on whom you ask:
Phil Da Agony: “It’s a great body of work, a moment in time that’ll be forever respected and cherished. It’s everybody coming together and putting their best foot forward.”
Mitchy Slick: “The best of what the West Coast has to offer all in one serving— from the block to the smoke shop all wrapped up in one.”
Krondon: “It’s students of the game getting a chance to present all that we’ve learned. It’s a complete embodiment of life and all the emotions that men go through. For the listener, the music is so triumphant that it calls for a picture to be painted with several different colors.”
Strong Arm Steady. Many things to many people. On February 22, 2011, with Arms & Hammers, one truth will radiate brilliantly. The West Coast has once again found its voice.