Though he makes up a mere 1/35th of Quakers, Geoff Barrow – best known as the man behind trip-hop legends Portishead – is easily the closest thing to a household name to be found in the newly-formed hip-hop collective on L.A.’s celebrated Stones Throw Records, and subsequently, the name most likely to be highlighted, underlined, and otherwise singled out as the group’s primary member. To do that though, is to truly gloss over Quakers, a massive undertaking in every sense of the phrase.
Spanning 41 tracks over almost 70 minutes, the album plays like a primer on Stones Throw’s storied back catalog, drifting often between heady, jazz-band-led bombast (on “Fitta Happier”, which cherrypicks that infinitely awesome bassline from Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” via a marching band), to the sort of coarsely-chopped freakbeats synonymous with Madlib, perhaps the imprint’s most famous signee. Quakers’ roster reads like an underground rap dream team, comprising of just as many legends (Aloe Blacc, Dead Prez, Guilty Simpson), as it does up-and-comers (Jonwayne and Lyric Jones), while 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst – who join Barrow on production duties – certainly hold their own behind the boards.
But as with any project this exhaustive, Quakers is rather hard to swallow in one sitting. There are certainly highlights, namely “Russia with Love” and “Smoke” featuring Jonwayne, but the record as a whole is derailed by its insistence on maintaining the same high energy throughout. While the aforementioned “Smoke”, which finds Jonwayne – an L.A. native who’s quickly asserting himself as one of the finest MC/producer double-threats in the game – beasting over a tight, grooving bassline, it’s one of just a few tracks to actually play out better than it looks on paper. The vast majority of the joints to feature up-and-comers – a category that makes up, well, the vast majority of Quakers– are pretty forgettable, while all but a couple of those which star big names like Aloe Blacc and Booty Brown, among others, do little more than offer a handful of choice glimpses at said big names’ glory days, making for a static and decidedly unmemorable listen throughout.
It’s unclear why Quakers insisted on packing this much material onto one release, considering how much it sounds like they didn’t leave anything on the cutting floor, but I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t the famously fastidious Barrow who made the decision Remember that time he spent 11 years on an album?
Essential Tracks: “Russia with Love”, “Smoke”, and “Fitta Happier”