The city is in the grip of government sanctioned mediocrity. The culture is in the throes of either death or rebirth. The state has taken to broadcasting 24 hours of artificial sunlight on all communications screens in an effort to distract the citizenry from the Darkness looming at the horizons edge.
OuterLimitz "Greater Things"
from the Suicide Prevention Album released in 2005 on G4
They are named for their origin. Residents of societys margins. Sons of an ancient time. Heralds of a coming upheaval. The people watch, compelled by fascination or frozen in terror…but who will understand…?
Their sound is the bionic future of Hip Hop, a sweet and deadly science perfected in the shadows of bombed-out cities. A vessel for cataclysmic emotions first heard in hallway ciphers. The impressions left by spacecraft on project blacktop.
Qwa, H.E., and Silence. How do you define a crew whose roles are so fluid they cant be pigeonholed? How do you praise a group whose experiences are so eerie they border the supernatural?
And can you truly comprehend when I say undefeated?
This writer first met Outerlimitz before the turn of the millennium. They were an expansive collective then, multiply aligned, since disbanded, whose ranks included future battle champs, basketball phenoms, and off-the-cuff comedic geniuses. They self-released a below-the-radar classic, Wrong Actions for the Right Reasons and regularly destroyed freestyle sessions. Chicago was a wasteland then, so far off the commercial radar that it may as well have been another planet. Success was a revolution in itself.
Over a 5 year period, away from the leering eyes of the coastal media, O.L. cemented their place in urban myth. Did they really rock a show in Georgia on the back of a flatbed truck? Did they really show up to battles in matching facepaint? Does Qwa ever sleep? Does clairvoyance really run H.E.s family? Did Silence really use to cuff cats upside the head with a skateboard?
Their reputations precede them. But in the swirling rumors lie certain solid truths, some of which are more unbelievable than rumor. One of which is this: they have never been defeated. This humble writer has been documenting the burgeoning (but almost completely ignored) Chicago scene—with its frenetic battles, spontaneous outpourings of creativity, and hostile crab-in-a-barrel mentality—for nearly ten years. In that time, O.L. have dispatched a host of rappers of all shapes, sizes, creeds, reputations and colors, to the dismal graveyard of forgetfulness. Cats with some variant of "John" or "Blaze" in their moniker, cats who claimed to have "just opened for (insert nationally recognized rap star here) at the House of Blues!", cats who wave their arms a lot, cats who claim to carry guns, cats who really did carry guns, cats who model themselves after superheroes, supervillains, robots, aliens, etc., cats who wanted to be friends after the battle, cats who still have beef, cats who like to pick on girls, cats who are just wack, and many, many, many who were truly dope. But not dope enough.
They have since revamped, reformed, reemerged as a 3 man unit (the past members having gone on to different destinies), and most importantly, recorded a brand-new classic. The delirious wait that fans have endured, the persistence of neophytes who have scoured bins and message boards for the increasingly rare W.A.R.R. record, and the Chicago Hip Hop intelligentsia whove been knowing that the O.L. are the next shit will all be duly rewarded. The new platter Suicide Prevention is time-release capsule that begins in sinewy minimalism and blooms in peaks of orchestral magic. Even as drums weave in out of jagged rhythm and a panorama of strings, horns, and unidentified instruments sweep across sky, the masterful MCing creates a sense of unnerving precision.
Qwa continues his complete domination of his craft, pushing the envelope of polyrhythm and often accomplishing subtle feats of time-travel within songs that, if you have the ears to listen, are a whole new dimension to MCing. His increasingly revelatory and personal musings are guarded, almost, by the intricacy of the delivery—like a fossil in the amber. H.E.s impassioned rasp is a revelation, swerving from moments of absolute fury to unguarded reflection. The wild-eyed conspiracy theorist of W.A.R.R. has returned from the mountaintop a poet. It seems O.L. has finally found the lyrical counterpart to their longtime franchise player. Or to put it in jazz terms, H.E. is Dolphy to Qwas Coltrane, and the shit is sick. Most surprising is producer extraordinaire Silences emergence as a real mic threat, or, as our coastal brethren would say, "A real problem." A true beat innovator, unafraid to tread in avant-garde waters (and to the lame critics, its all avant-garde unless the Neptunes do it3) and solidly D.I.Y. in ethic4, his 6th man heroics add a new level of threat to the O.L. arsenal.
Once, in a long-gone time, after a historic free-for-all at WHPK, a slew of Chicagos young luminaries (O.L. included) stood outside in the gothic night and sent clouds of smoke billowing into the ether. At that moment, as if in slow-motion, a trio of young men ran down the shadowed street, one brandishing a gun, the other two open handed, cursing and gun-waving. It was hard to tell who was chasing who. Eyes veered downstreet, some laughed. It was the crab barrel upturned, life on planet Chicago personified. Only this writer looked up into the inky sky, to see a brilliant green light hover over the radio station, wobble, and speed off into history. My first UFO sighting. Only in the Outerlimitz.