2 years ago I couldn’t have told you an I.E hip-hop record like The Combine existed. Unapologetically modern but also relentlessly smart and positive, the album plays like the coolest Inland Empire pep rally Hollywood could create. Triune delivers baritone bars and E.Q sings tronical fried R&B smoothness on their crisply produced collection of sports-themed anthems, seemingly custom-designed for Friday night PS4 sessions and ESPN.
The wholesomeness and conventionality of the value system at work here is a different experience for me. Triune’s high school (and mine!) scores a dedication on “Alma Mater”- E.Q’s endless high school references “asking for hall passes”, “salutatorian” etc. keep the song light on its feet, more concerned with humor and cleverness than putting people down like a lot of other baller-boss hip-hop does. Triune spits poems about real grown-person love that are both beautiful in their painting but honest in their portrayal of a man.
“Draft Day” is a great role-playing exercise and metaphor for the day young athletes learn they’ve been selected in the draft as well as one of the album’s catchiest tracks. Both E.Q and Triune start simply and build up to ridiculous styles by the end of the piece.
“Pretty Thangz” cleverly uses basketball lingo to describe a stable of lovers competing for elevated status, “she tryna win a ring…”
"Going Going Gone" is the group's baseball anthem with one of the album's catchiest choruses and a beat that won't quit, creating a catchy middle ground between a hip-hop banger and a stadium organ anthem. "Game Winner" is another highlight, reaching a remarkable emotional height at the end while the chorus crescendos over some of E.Q's strongest foundation harmony vocals. "Vacation" and "Like a Winner" are chill sexy odes to relaxing with a lover in which both vocalists, particularly Triune, describe tropical and luxurious escape scenes vividly. On "Carpe Diem" a track whose unqiue and epic beat I love more every time I bump it, both of the album's stars make clear they haven't forgotten where they came from as they discuss the challenges of growing up for themselves and the future generation.
E.Q. weaves between hip-hop and R&B seamlessly, his facility with lingo and MC braggadocio while structuring songs recalls Nate Dogg while at the same time sounding totally modern and of his era. Triune is an unpredictable and versatile MC who, to use the album’s milieu, knows how to play on a team but also how to score points solo. Sometimes he's very direct and sometimes he's one of those Godfather rappers with whom the more he says the less you’re sure of what he’s really thinking. Together, The Combine make collaboration sound easy. From what I hear, they’ll be doing this forever.
Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.