Back in the late 90s, Hangar 18 broke into the NYC scene with an almost vaudevillian brand of hip hop. Emcees Tim “Alaska” Baker and Ian “Windnbreeze” McMullin have a Laurel and Hardy aesthetic, and while their toothy grins and goofy lyrics kept that man with the big hook waiting backstage, their indubitable skill as rappers kept him from using it. On their sophomore LP Sweep the Leg, Hangar 18 dare to expand into rockier thematic terrain without losing their trademark cheeky wit. Third Hangar member DJ paWL and guest producer Blockhead both rise to the challenge by framing the duo’s wordplay perfectly as they bounce from highs to lows.
Whatever they’re rapping about and whatever the tempo of the beats, these dudes can rap effortlessly fast-not quite Micro Machines guy or Twista fast, but damn close! The effect can be totally maniacal, as in “Last Stop”, where paWL channels Aphex Twin and lays on the “faster” button and “Bakin Soda” whose (very) thinly-veiled drug references lock arms with an insanely cranked beat that swings into oblivion. In contrast to all that silliness, “Sad” opens with a film noir sax solo and gets even more melancholy when The Hangar dip into Atmosphere territory-parallel tales of love gone superwrong; the beats are languid, but the rhymes race the same way thoughts tend to when you hit rock bottom.
Speaking of Atmosphere, Slug guests on the record and on “Dance with Me”, he steals the show like an adult crashing the kids’ table, his throaty bass emphasizing the less-manly tenor of his hosts. Alaska and Windnbreeze slow down a bit on this one and give the lyrics a chance to shine. Unfortunately, these rhymes are some of the corniest in the bunch, and if Slug’s verse are the meat of this rap sandwich, the Hangar bread sounds extra soggy and lame.
“The West Wing”, on the other hand, is an amazing track with a buttery beat from Blockhead. Well-placed handclaps and arpeggiated keyboards bounce smoothly behind Hangar 18’s own personal episode of Cribs, with the boys waxing poetically about cleanliness, cooking and privacy, three things that are scarce when you’re on tour crammed in a van or sleeping on a stranger’s floor. “Think Big” also stands out, with its jazz theme and motivational lyrics. The track almost veers into Sesame Street cheese-land, but ends up being so catchy that it’s impossible to hate. Those looking for traditionally darker and grittier Def Jux tracks will be into the swaggering “Feet to Feet”, the hard-hitting “Jump Muthafuh”, and the ominously digital “Watchyoself”.
The opening track “Highly Anticipated” not only encapsulates the group’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (see also the name of their first release, The Multiplatinum Debut Album), but also their own excitement for what they do, as their infectious energy permeates a hyper boom bap. And while their earnest enthusiasm ensures that these guys will never be the coolest rappers in the room, Sweep the Leg proves that Hangar 18 is no joke.