The name Strong Arm Steady holds its reservations of a gun-totin’ squadron that is relentless on the violent content. While the Californian trio consisting of Phil Da Agony, Mitchy Slick and Krondon are far from peacekeeping missionaries draped in social awareness, as an unit, they have a good handle on keeping one foot in the streets and the other in the studio. Coming off an effort that diversified their sound (2010’s In Search Of Stoney Jackson), the Left Coasters bridge the gap and return back to their original essence for their best work yet to date with the callous orchestration of Arms & Hammers.
The SAS Gang don’t kill with highbrow concepts or metaphorical wordiness, but they compensate for it in edginess rarely nicely. A haunting jewel of track like the Marsha Ambrosius-featured “When Darkness Falls” is a stark example of their evolution as artists. “Way harder than I like/way tougher than I sound…” bellows Phil Da Agony as his brothers in rhyme follow suit with interpolated openers for their verses, revealing a deliberate level of chemistry in the studio, opposed to mailing in verses from remote areas. The aforementioned “When Darkness Falls” is merely one of the five DJ Khalil-conceived murder melodies, all constructed for the battlezone. Equally impressive are joints like the deafening “Klack Or Get Klacked On” as the group celebrates the Second Amendment or “Much More” which is a syrupy jazz hybrid where SAS kicks harmonious vocal inflections that would make the Bone Thugs proud.
Diversity is key, however and Strong Arm Steady’s command on the executive end is what really makes the project gel in just under an hour of running time. Other producers and a bevy of guests such as Terrace Martin, The Game, Talib Kweli, KRS-One and Jelly Roll are assigned roles and scattered through the LP to keep things lively. A single-hopeful like “Blow My Horn” for example, is everything you wouldn’t expect from a pack of rappers known for recounting the amount of chalk drawn in the streets of L.A., but its carefree feel manages to nestle in nicely with the more coarse offerings of the album.
Heavy on the bass and light on the contemplation, “Make Me Feel” and “On Point” are also two unorthodox approaches to making intentional radio hits. Without conceding on their abrasive subject matter or tactics, a pack of underdogs shows it is still a reality in an era where most acts cut corners just to be heard on a national level.
Simply put, Arms & Hammers is an engrossing onslaught of dope songs. Fans outside the Pacific Time Zone may be slow to catch on, but it is always refreshing to uncover a project where the artists aren’t afraid to flex a little muscle.