Rap music was magical. Its practitioners defied any and all musical rules because rap was not bound by rules. It existed in its own space, where its only allegiances were to creativity, the drive to be the best and a desire to be cutting-edge. In its essence, rap was rebellious.
That magical feeling -- largely lost once rappers started chasing hits rather than artistic greatness -- has been reclaimed by Pain Language, the supergroup of platinum producer DJ Muggs and revered rhyme assassin Planet Asia. On the duo's eponymous debut album, the pair delivers song after song of mind-blowing, bone-crushing lyrical and sonic adventures that breath energy and excitement into each cut. Simply put, Pain Language is brass knuckle rap.
"It's hard to find somebody who really comes from a place where they just want to make some rebellious music," DJ Muggs says. "People are worried about what they're going to get on the radio, what's the new sound. We've never been like that. I've always looked at the game and said, 'The game is going this way. I'm gong that way.'"
With Planet Asia holding down the lyrics and DJ Muggs manning the beats, Pain Language approach artistic genius, as the two demonstrate their respective brilliance on the kinetic "10 Step Draw," an up-tempo cut on which Planet Asia raps rapid-fire battle-minded raps over DJ Muggs' brassy horns and driving drums.
"It reminded me of the era of fast-rapping, where everybody would rhyme up-tempo," Planet Asia says of DJ Muggs' frenetic beats. "Everything's a little slow now. Back then, it was all about rhyming fast and what kind of styles and patterns within that. It's hard rhyming fast and doing a pattern. So, this song shows the art of MCing a lot. I don't hear a lot of songs like that nowadays."
Songs about spiritual subjects are also on the wane, but Pain Language's eerie, piano-accented "Death Frees Every Soul" deals with what happens to your soul when you die. Also boasting an intense verse from longtime DJ Muggs collaborator Sick Jacken, this song hits close to home for Planet Asia. "I really wrote that rap in dedication to my mother-in-law," he says. "She had passed during that time from cancer. But I told Muggs that I really didn't want to write too much on some death-type stuff. I don't really deal with death. It seems that cats that rap about death, it just becomes them after a while."
Planet Asia explores other parts of his background on the stark "All Hail The King." With crisp drums, chants and bells serving as his sonic background, the California rapper reflects on his upbringing. "The coming up part is always the best part of the learning process," he says. "If it wasn't for certain people, I wouldn't even be doing this. It takes little things to trigger something big. If you just get some applause at a young age, just that can send you so far. You'll want that applause again and again and again after that first time -- especially if you're broke or poor. That's better than money. So, I always revisit those times."
Moving on to his storytelling abilities, Planet Asia shifts gears on the crime caper "Drama." On the equally arresting "9mm," DJ Muggs flaunts his production prowess by altering Planet Asia's voice, providing a wicked effect. "Remember how the Beastie Boys mics would be distorted all the time?" Muggs says. "I wanted to give it that without changing the music. I figured if just changed his vocal, it would be like a bridge, something that's super drastic."
In truth, DJ Muggs' music has always been super drastic. After releasing an album with the woefully overlooked 7A3, DJ Muggs' alternatively dusted and aggressive sound served as the foundation for Cypress Hill, one of the most successful and influential rap groups of all time whose lengthy list of hits include "Insane In The Brain." Cypress Hill's pro-marijuana agenda was years ahead of its time, as was its willingness to tour with rock acts.
As the producer for the overwhelming majority of Cypress Hill's music, DJ Muggs learned how to create, develop and refine a sound, not chase someone else's sound or success. "I came from a group, making whole albums," DJ Muggs says. "I never got into selling beats. Instead of selling beats to everybody, I made a Soul Assassins album and brought everybody into my world. To be able to go in and just be free creatively is fun."
Like DJ Muggs, Planet Asia is a visionary. Raised in Fresno, California, Planet Asia eschewed the gangster rap stylings popular in his area and instead focused on developing his skill as a supreme lyricist. His work with likeminded rapper Rasco as the Cali Agents made Planet Asia one of the best of the new generation of Left Coast rappers, a distinction given more credence given his string of critically acclaimed albums and his Grammy nomination for his work with rapper Mystic on the song "W."
Now, Planet Asia is relishing the opportunity to work with someone as accomplished and stylistically similar as DJ Muggs. "I'm actually with somebody that's actually made platinum records and has had a successful career and he's telling me to do it the real way, which is how I've always wanted to do it," Planet Asia says. "It's a blessing. You don't get these types of chances. You usually get with a big producer and he wants you to do what's hot at that moment. A lot of these producers, they change with the times. DJ Muggs changes the times. There's a difference."
Now, as Pain Language, DJ Muggs and Planet Asia have changed the times yet again, delivering a record ahead of its time, yet classic in sound, feel, execution and attitude. "It's a super highly-aggressive record," DJ Muggs says. "We're saying fuck you to the radio stations, to the video shows, all the pop music and the people who are stars who don't have an album out. We're not going to follow a format. It's just us putting up a middle finger up to everybody. We're coming from that N.W.A attitude. This is rebellious music."