Rap doesn’t sound as stark as it used to. Above the Law — Los Angeles rappers who’ve just released their first album — make music so rich it turns almost into theater. The rappers’ voices might be speaking dialogue from a radio play; the music underneath would be the dark background score.
Their subject, often enough, is crime: Above the Law dramatizes the mayhem in L.A.’s black ghettos. In ”Livin’ Like Hustlers,” the album’s title cut, there’s a musical refrain built from, among other things, a scream.
The rapping, unfortunately, isn’t as vivid as it might be. One of the group has a grainy, low voice that sounds as if someone might have stepped on it. If he didn’t sound like this, you couldn’t readily tell him from the others; everyone in Above the Law seems to say more or less the same thing in more or less the same tone.
Still, Livin’ Like Hustlers conveys an almost tangible sense of community. For a band that tells us it’s besieged — by violence on the streets, and by those who think the obscene and violent language on albums like this is too strong — that’s a powerful plus. B