Cook Thugless are an amazing New Brunswick-based band who have made three exceptional concept albums: 2013’s SPACE, 2015’s TIME and the recently released Money — the best of the bunch and, so far, the best local release of the year. It’s rare when a local unsigned act makes lasting art, but that is what Cook Thugless have done with Money. The 17-track collection proves that rap and hip-hop can uplift the soul and expand the mind rather than waste time, space and money in the gutter glorifying violence and degrading women.
Money also proves that hip-hop blends beautifully with jazz — something the New Brunswick music scene, and especially the gig-plentiful New Brunswick Jazz Project, should realize and utilize. Fans of Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Groove Collective and Guru’s Jazzmatazz will dig this LP, as the band once again fuse psychedelic rock, ambient jazz, chill funk and rap tales that tell a story, like the chapters in a book. The trip-hop elements of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul add to the grooves, such as on “Pu$$y Money Bling,” “New Release,” “Beautiful Brown” and the single/video “Junk Stew.”
This time out, the concept revolves around the band staying true to themselves in the face of the temptation to sell out and the lack of opportunity to do otherwise. Often funny, with tongue-in-cheek interludes and spoofs of the rap scene, the music industry and apathetic affluence, the disc also is at times furious about society’s lack of empathy. Rich with rhymes and rhythms, Money would make the music industry just THAT if it got hip to Cook Thugless. On “Gucci in My Kitchen,” the band declares, “Cook Thugless been a start of revolution/Comin’ at the music industry till we get our restitution.” Right on!
One of the most interesting things about Cook Thugless is that they’re trilingual because co-rapper (and videographer) Jean Louis Droulers is a Venezuelan of French descent. While he doesn’t dabble in French this time out, he once again sings in Spanish on “Net Worthless,” a musical ping pong match between rapid-fire rap and flute-driven acid jazz. Also not afraid to mix up the rhythms is the closing “Lucky 27,” a frightening homage to Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who all died young but whose music will live (and whose funds will flow) forever.
Not about to forget that they’re from Jersey, the band shout out to Hub City as well as Trenton and Jersey City on “Gucci in My Kitchen,” “New Release” and/or the opening “Wants and Needs,” a look at thems that gots, while Cook Thugless ain’t got nothin’ yet. And while that may be true financially, they’ve got plenty in the tunes department, and are just as good live. Check them out June 17 at Art All Night in Trenton, the hometown of a couple of members of the band.
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