Released in 1994, Shaq Fu: Da Return was the second studio album from Shaquille O’Neal, NBA superstar and rapper extraordinaire. Twenty years has passed (yes, really!) and Shaq has returned once again, though not as his original self. You could say that he’d returned last time around, but he’s definitely returned once again thanks to VLK.
This is an alternate reality that desperately tries to enter the present day. Squelchy basslines and cut-up vocals let you reminisce over Hip Hop’s long gone youth. During its rocky teenage years, the popular majority started to go off the rails, turning to a life of gun crime, gang culture and the pursuit of money in a world absent of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series. Hip Hop would later gain some more notoriety that would put it in line with Rock, but maybe it just grew up, became harder and colder. But it forgot to tell the nation about its original struggle and its cagey, rebellious upbringing. Shaq bought Hip Hop an extra life, and now VLK has breathed life into Shaq Fu: Da Return.
Everything you hear on Shaq Fu: Da Return: Da Return is made entirely out of sounds from that album. Surprisingly, the album slides around for long periods without any kind of a beat or a melodic sample (VLK doesn’t always need a hook) in a genre where the beat is usually king. Tiny cents of grimy nostalgia start to gleam as soon as the thumping rhythms hit. The feel is melodic and sunny, as if it were made for the Sunshine State.
Shaq Fu sounds intentionally dated. The samples are original, but the colors and the synths aren’t. The album has veered into the wild jungle of experimental music and it won’t be coming out anytime soon. Vocals have been shifted around in pitch, turning them into a plague of low-voiced zombies. An ambient haze oozes out of the music and fills the mind with its bright, vivid colors and swampy tone, like a glass of orange juice left over from the 90’s. Psychedelic rainbows trickle out of the music, and the experimental side is something that you can’t and probably never will find in hip hop.
When the lyrics do emerge, they are spliced and screwed against a grinding bass or a funky and clammy melody. Fresh rhythms start to take shape as the tight loop repeats. Everything you hear was already here, but VLK has resurrected the music in what is an impressive reconstruction. The beats have that 90’s chunky feel, like powerful Tetris blocks falling over and over again. The vocals remain muddied while the squeezed synths dart around, lasers of light that shoot out of a strange, secret nightclub somewhere in San Antonio, Ibiza. Shaq Fu has morphed into an interdimensional being capable of transcending the decades and the borders of music itself. If 1994 was the year of Shaq’s return, then 2014 is the year when he returns again. Slam dunk this little bit of Orlando magic. (James Catchpole)