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The CUF – Cuf Caviar, Volume 1 (Review)

the-cuf-cuf-caviar-volume-one

Way before rap took to the internet and spread to the masses beyond epic proportions, it experienced a fascinating underground period which died around the turn of the century. This movement developed in the early 90s as a more positive alternative to the mainstream “hip hop” that was fueled by the ghetto-fabulous ideals promoted in gangsta rap. Prior to the advent of youtube, tumblr and datpiff, local rappers flexed their skills by opening for headlining acts on mini-tours. They sold their own merch at their own shows. They sat in front of record shops and liquor stores and literally sold their homemade tapes and cds from the trunk of their cars. It was a real hustle back then. These underground artists weren’t striving for ring-tone money, or to have the top downloaded single on I-Tunes. They were more concerned with artistic expression, gaining respect, and making music for the love of it. If they could make a living doing that, all the better. One of the torchbearers of this underground movement was the CUF (California Underground Funk) from Sacramento, California. Much like their hometown Kings, they don’t exactly have a massive following. Outside of Sacto, much of their notoriety derives from their loose affiliation with the famous Living Legends crew. Along with their LL brethren and contemporaries like Hieroglyphics and the Shapeshifters, the CUF are some of the true innovators of independent hip hop.

Over the years the group has built an impressive catalogue with the help of various guest appearances, solo albums, and side projects like Good4Nuthin and Deep Fried Funk Brothers. However it’s been roughly a decade since the entire crew of N8 the Gr8, Pete B., Crush, Brotha RJ and turntablist Mad G came together and dropped an album. Cuf Caviar, Volume 1 marks the groups 5th album in their 18 year career. More importantly, it marks a much welcomed return for the Capitol City’s beloved under dogs.

From the starting gate, the CUF waste no time in serving up their vintage cosmic slop of funk, jazz, and old-school turntablism. Throw in a heavy helping of slick rhymes and clever wordplay, and you have the ingredients for an interesting experience. Things get off to a great start with “How We Get Down,” “Flame Lit,” and “Wish You Would” reminding us how unique this slept-on group can be. “Gotta Love Us” is also a really dope track that’s carried by a filthy jazz saxophone and some killer scratching. “Anthem” is another solid track that reeks of classic Cuf as RJ gives a funky breakbeat a critical beatdown. But perhaps the strongest cut on this joint is the single, “Larry Lay.” Over a Latin-flavored beat reminiscent of early Cypress Hill, emcees Pete, N8 and Crush display pure chemistry as they brilliantly trade off verses like the true O.G.s. they are.

The most glaring missteps on Cuf Caviar occur when they veer away from their off-kilter, left-of-center brand of hip hop. Tracks like “Do It The Most” and “Tragic” aren’t necessarily bad songs, but they have a noticeable gloss to their production that make them seem out of place. The auto-tune assistance found on “Don’t Ask No ?’s” and “We Got More” is also about four years too late. Even more to the point, auto-tune has no place on a CUF release. Aren’t these the same guys that wrote “20 Times A Day”? Can’t blame them I guess. After 20 years in the game, sometimes you gotta concede and give the people what they want.

To sum up the CUF and what their music is all about, look no further than the introduction to their 1999 album, Cufilation. Pete B states:

“We put together this project just to show people that we don’t have to do things a certain way. We don’t have to drop tapes quarterly…drop albums quarterly. We drop shit whenever we feel like it. Whenever we want….With whatever emcees we choose to deal with. We do what we wanna do when we want to do it.”

Cuf Caviar, Volume 1 is a testament to this statement. The CUF have always done things their way….Even if it meant sacrificing a record deal for the sake of preserving their art. (Which actually happened.) From a group that always created hip hop music for the love of it and the fun of it, their latest offering is a solid addition to their body of work. Like all CUF releases, it’s got some tight beats with some right on time chatter. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s that straight Cufish! Cuf Caviar….Get it?! Just like high-priced fish eggs, Cuf Caviar won’t be for everyone. But for those who still get down with the underground, enjoy the brand new flavor in ya ears.

(3/5)

  • #1 Cuf Fan…

    Nice Review!! But after Listening to the album, I would have to say that the autotune on tracks like Don’t Ask No ?’s is used quite creatively, and not in contradiction to “20 Times a Day.” Also, this “Gloss” that you speak of on tracks like Do it the Most and Tragic, in my mind is a sign of the growth and evolution of these cats as producers and artists. They have honed their craft, without the need for big budgets or big studios, while still keeping absolutely true to the message and philosophy of the “Underground.”

    • Schmidty

      We appreciate your feedback #1 CUF Fan. Your points are well noted. Thanks for reading.
      -BCF