Sykoalition - Born Again
For years I wondered what their music sounded like. The only song I could find was on Familia Records' "Chicano Rap Volume 3". "Cali" held me off for 15 plus years. I would regularly search for "Psychoalition" to no avail. I just couldn't believe that nothing else was available by them. Their name is virtually unheard of, ask most people about Sykoalition and they'll reply with a blank face. Well my friends, I'm here to break it down for you. Last November I posted my thoughts on "Chicano Rap Volume 3", one of my go-to favorite albums and explained that although their name is listed as "Psychoalition", however, the true spelling is "Sykoalition". I did a quick Google search after reading the name in the shout outs on "Straight From Tha Zone". I found their MySpace page but unfortunately, due to a server migration, all music uploaded prior to 2015 is unavailable. I was irked that after finally finding them I could not listen to their jams. Then, out of the blue TOG-1, half of the rap duo, hit me up on CalifaRap and asked me to share my thoughts on their full project. According to TOG-1, the group consists of himself (abbreviation for The Original 1) and his partner Da Child. As I deduced previously, the group name is a combination of Psycho & Coalition, "a mental state of unity" if you will. The duo has its origins dating back to 1992, a pivotal time in San Diego's bustling rap scene. Now, the 619 is a big place, but the world is actually rather small. While playing the album, I noticed a striking similarity in sound to that of Aztec Tribe. To my delight, TOG-1 explained that the one and only Madman had a hand in this.
The first track, "Tell Me Why" (produced by Madman) tells the story of the pain behind the loss of homies over the lack of mercy on the streets. At first I didn't quite feel it, however the more I heard it, my ears began to connect the symphony of the harmonic female vocals with the synth and the rapping over a thick bass. As I proceeded to the next song, "Materialize" reminded me too much of "Rap Super Star" despite predating it by a handful of years. It's not a bad thing, however the rap delivery overshadowed any significant similarities (that's a good thing). Madman's production on "Can't Let Go" simmers alongside a rhyme scheme that sways back and forth like a lyrical tug of war. The female vocals adds a seamless transition from verse to chorus. Changing the tone a bit, "Games You Play" throws it back to the 80s with a freestyle-type of vibe (freestyle as in the type of 80s electronic dance subgenre). I don't know how I feel about this mash-up. I didn't grow up with an affinity for it, but I know that some homies from the 90s used to groove to it. Sykoalition isn't the first to rap to these type of beats as DBA Flip, Royal T and a few other rappers have done it. It's unique in the sense that it's just not a sound that I hear too often.
Upbeat swings like "Ill Funky Flow" are my flavor of Khool-Aid. The "Atomic Dog" sample kicks off hard with the vocals of Evelyn Champagne carefully crafted into the beat before fading into louder sounds integrated into the song. The howling from "Atomic Dog" is a nice touch, albeit there are certain elements I would like to have eliminated. Moving onwards to "Southern Cal", Madman really gives this song an Aztec Tribe vibe, reminiscent of "Everybody Bounce". Same samples. Bass thumping. One of my favorite songs off the album for sure. Vocoders are another element of West Coast rap that I've thoroughly enjoyed throughout the years, so naturally I found "Get Up" appealing, though sometimes I find it generic. The "Flashlight" sample and the synthesizer are a nice touch. Comical raps were definitely a 90s thing, and "Kung Fu Fighting" is a entertaining track, with some purposely out-of-sync imitations of dubbed Kung Fu films dialogue over some dope samples.
What I love about Old School Rap songs is the occasional interpolation of an older song, usually a classic. I did enjoy "Groovin" (an obvious ode to Smokey Robinson's timeless classic). While conversing with TOG-1, he mentioned that the person on the chorus is none other than Frankie J (former Latin Freestyle artists and member of Kumbia Kings). I still can't figure how Sykoalition's material never materialized, accordingly, "Doin It All Over" was their only real release back in the day. TOG-1 states that it made it to the "Top 7 and 7" on Jammin' Z90 (90.3FM in San Diego) and had regular airplay back in the late 90s. Personally, I like the track, it leans heavily towards that East Coast Style of boom-bap raps. It's catchy. Building on that San Diego hometown support, Trevor Davis (he was on "The Voice" a while back) makes a guest appearance for the chorus on "Junior", a song about the sudden loss of a relative. It definitely stands out for the tone and distinctiveness from the rest of the album. Overall, I was impressed that the record didn't sound dusty nor does it sound like it was done with analog recording. It was very well crafted.
I had the honor of hearing the full length album, never before released. At first I didn't know what to expect and admittedly this sounded different than I had anticipated it. In summary, the entire album sounded more playful than hardcore rap we are accustomed to. Unlike all previous reviews and opinions I have written in the past, this, my friends, I actually got to ask some questions and had concrete answers, leaving little to my speculations. The group's only released song "Cali" was one reason I got into Chicano Rap. The Original 1 explained that it was just a misspelling and unfortunately, they weren't even aware that their first demo had made it to the Familia Records compilation and the only reason they found out was because of my review from November of 2018. True story. As the Chicano Rap gods would have it, after decades of never seeing the light of day, "Born Again" (if the naming was up to me, I'd have titled the debut Sykoative, but that's just me) is finally on sale through CDBaby.
01. Tell Me Why
03. Can't Let Go
04. Games You Play
05. Ill Funky Flow
06. Southern Cal
07. Get Up
08. Kung Fu Fighting
09. Groovin (feat. Frankie J)
10. Doin It All Over
11. Junior (feat. Trevor Davis)