Company Flow
Funcrusher Plus
Definitive Jux

In 1997, it was a turbulent time for hip-hop. It had gone from a niche genre to arguably the most popular music in the world. Puffy was the devil incarnate for his ham-fisted use of pop samples, and the split between the underground and the groups storming the pop charts was widening at an alarming rate. In the midst of all this, New York trio Company Flow, comprised of El-P, Bigg Jus and DJ Mr. Len, released the sonic bomb known as Funcrusher Plus. Now celebrating its 12-year anniversary, the album has been remastered and given the deluxe treatment by El-P’s Definitive Jux label.

Company Flow had first appeared with the eight-song Funcrusher EP, which was then revamped and reworked into the 19-song strong Funcrusher Plus. Funcrusher Plus was the perfect record at the perfect time. When rap seemed to be more about the pop charts and chasing after the major label money, Company Flow declared themselves to be “independent as fuck.” It was the first album from Rawkus Records, which grew to be the indie hip-hop label of the late ’90s. While the underground had existed before Company Flow, the release of Funcrusher Plus provided a year zero moment and a definitive line in the sand. It was a defiantly contrary record that resonated in New York and among college radio fans, but never racked up big sales. To paraphrase the threadbare phrase, not many people bought the record but everyone who did formed a hip-hop crew.

One of the most shocking things about Funcrusher Plus is how lo-fi it sounds. Even in its remastered state, most of the album sounds like it was recorded with a couple of mics and a boombox. Even in post–Guided By Voices America, it was amazing to hear an album with hip-hop songs that sounded like barely polished demos. But much like their lo-fi brethren in the rock strata, the decision to go that route seemed to be a specific aesthetic choice. When everything around you is polished within an inch of its life, adding a little dirt to things seems to be the simplest way to stand out. So while the radio was looking for superstars and new ways to repackage nostalgia, Company Flow sought strength in dusty boom-bap and distorted samples.

But what makes the record stand the test of time is that it’s not just a reactionary record. Sure they have words for wack emcees, like “Population Control,” which essentially advised them all to quit, or “Bad Touch Example,” where EL-P declares “in one verse we proved we can rip these big budget signed motherfuckers.” But they also have tightly crafted narratives and more depth than a battle emcee. And while the ?97 version of EL-P unfairly gets much of the blame for spawning the underground’s love for the “super-scientific” abstract style of rhyming, when you actually listen to Funcrusher Plus, he and Bigg Jus actually sound pretty straightforward compared to where the genre would go.

Unfortunately, the record seemed to be a brillant one-off. The follow-up was the all-instrumental Little Johnny from the Hospital, and soon after Company Flow disbanded. Mr. Len went on to helm his own label and work with a variety of artists from Jean Grae to Prince Paul; Bigg Jus made a few solo albums; while El-P has emerged as a hugely influential producer, performer and label head. Now, in a time that seems eerily similar to when Company Flow first smacked the world over the head with 12 years ago, maybe it’s time to rediscover the underground.
Dorian S. Ham