2012 was, in many ways, a banner year among Athens' burgeoning hip-hop community. Though not as expansive as Atlanta's, our scene put forth an increasingly noteworthy share of trap-happy underground sounds, psych-tinted samplefests and and skewed synth pad-rap. In the hazy middle stood Mad Axes, a group featuring two-thirds of belated outfit Deaf Judges.
Mad Axes' initial offering, Debut Smash, was a natural continuation of the Judges' Dirty South-meets-Def Jux style, but it leaned more toward the dark side of sound, a nightmarish blend of bile-gurgling synths and back-alley whisperings. The new album, You Are the Real Monster, is another fine entry in what one hopes is an ongoing series, an even more ambitious outing that finds the group's two anchor members (MCs Louie Larceny and Walter Kovax) playing it cool while surrounded by chaos.
While less cohesive than Debut Smash (on which production duties were singly handled by the group's longtime DJ, Cubenza), Monster is, arguably, a more interesting record, thanks to its diverse lineup: Cubenza appears, providing beats for a handful of tracks, but so does local DJ mainstay TRIZ, as well as mysteriously named producer The Conspiracy, who deals out a sick (and sickly) backing track for the strange, psyched-out "South of Macon." Other game locals show up unexpectedly, such as Garbage Island guitarist Craig Lieske ("Tomahawk Blunt Technique"), or Future Ape Tapes' Tom Television, who delivers an Aesop Rock-ish verse on "Turn the Lights Out."
Indeed, Monster is a collaborative affair, and the record release show, which features the Axes alongside psych-poppers Moths, new heavy-rock heavyweights National Anthem and scrappy junk-rockers Ritvals, emphasizes the group's inclusive spirit.
But what of other local hip-hop? Downtown clubs showcase Athens' extensive, eclectic scene so painfully infrequently, you'd be forgiven for thinking there was no real rap scene to be found. But you'd be wrong. It's time for everyone—Flagpole included—to take note of the invisible underground.
Mad Axes plays the Caledonia Lounge on Friday, Jan. 11.