According to wikipedia, a binary star is a system of two stars orbiting a common central mass. And, thus, we have the aptly named underground duo Binary Star, consisting of emcees OneBeLo (formerly One Man Army) and Senim Silla. These guys are at the forefront of alternative, socially-conscious hip-hop and have remained deep in the underground since their formation in 1998. In fact, I’ve heard their first album, Waterworld was recorded on a $500 budget and most tracks were recorded in one take! One year later, when they could afford it, they re-mixed the tracks with better production and re-released it under a new album name and label: Masters of the Universe (2000).
As with most underground rappers, Binary Star are known for their depth of message and lyrical complexity. If I had to describe what distinguishes from from other alternative groups in one word, it’s this: goosebumps. The word play, story telling, smooth high-pitched vocals from OneBeLo complemented by Senim’s baritone voice. The jazz backing, piano loops, and smooth beats. These guys met in prison, and the way they discuss rehabilitation, evolution, and and other social topics — all under the theme of astronomy (hence the album and group name) — is well-articulated and leaves you thinking.
The duo disbanded a couple years after forming, but then released an EP in 2013, theirfirst in 15 years. It appears they’re back together (and hopefully for good!), because they released a follow-up to Waterworld in June 2017.
Reality Check – Waterworld (1999)
I’m showing this track off the original Waterworld, so you can see can see the raw verses in one take, with budget production value, and it still hits hard. They challenge the state of rap in 2000, and argue that quality should be priority — an interesting parallel to today. In this track, it’s all about the message, and you can tell since the wordplay and lyricism is not very advanced.
It aint all about economy
so the fact that these wack emcees is making G’s don’t bother me
Honestly, my number one policy is quality
never sell my soul is my philosophy
High velocity, lyrics like Nastradamus make a prophecy
Slang Blade – Masters of the Universe (2000)
This track is 100% about linguistics and technical lyricism. If you’re into this stuff, it will likely leave your jaw dropped. Otherwise, you’ll still get sucked into the rip curl of Senim Silla’s smooth flow. It’s interesting that only a couple years after lyricism was catching on in the underground, Binary Star was doing it better than half the originators. For example, in just 6 bars, he pushes 15 rhymes of the same ending:
Now just to be accurate, label me immaculate
Short fuse like monagues fuel capulets
Elaborate labyrinth, lavish pimp pattering
Rip, rude to ravishing, cabbage scavenging
from word babbling, babbling brook and words travelling
Like Miles Tattling, I’m kind of partial to battling
The K.G.B. – Masters of the Universe (2000)
The goosebump track. It’s almost 7 minutes, featuring 6 other artists (including Elzhi, one of my favorite rappers from Slum Village). The dark background beats hold you in a trance while the emcees spit fire one by one. Verse 4 is my favorite, especially the 30 seconds when the bass stops and all you hear is Elzhi going HAM.
Honest Expression – Masters of the Universe (2000)
Among all tracks I’ve heard about the state of hip-hop, this is the most well-delivered and poignant commentary. The theme is that honest expression should be the gold-standard in hip-hop, not just putting on a show. I couldn’t agree more.