Bobby Brusberg reviewed The Hell Hole Store’s Return To The Hell Hole.
Sometimes hip-hop music doesn’t need to address societal or political issues to be powerful. I’m not sure if anyone has addressed environmental issues in their music yet. But they will. The current state of the USA is ripe for musical commentary, but sometimes we just need to jam. Looking for some shade from the gassy orange mass in charge of our well-being, I visited The Hell Hole Store. The Hell Hole Store is a duo comprised of Darko The Super and ialive, and their second album Return To The Hell Hole Store is an exceptional way to cool off. I don’t admire this album just because they’re not trying to teach me anything, I like it because it sounds great and the rhymes are unique. As a bonus, I have in my possession some artist commentary for each track, so my job is pretty much done. Skip to the bottom if you’re here for the inside scoop, but if you read my words too I’ll be very happy and forget my plot to prevent Christmas. Wait, I lost the notes. Dang. You’ve really done it this time, Bobby. How do you lose an email?
Found it! The album opens with a mellow feel-good track. “Cow Tippin’” reminisces on the nostalgic feeling of having very few responsibilities and burdens during childhood. Ignorance is bliss and there are things I miss about being a kid, but at least I can reach the top shelf now. That’s where the cashews are. In a cruel twist of fate, I now have to pay for the cashews. If the introductory track doesn’t indicate enough character to each emcee, “Green Ski Mask” provides a contrast between the aggressive Darko robbing Rite Aid, and the more docile ialive eating ice cream in his green sleeping bag. Truly two sides of the same coin.
I don’t know what’s better in “Three’s Company,” the beat or the rhymes. I’m a sucker for guitar samples, but with rhymes like “I never heard that song ‘New God Flow’/ cuz fuck Kanye West, my mom drives a RAV4 and she’s the best.” I like my mom, and I’m not really into Kanye West’s music, so I feel like the third company in this song. The fun is ruined after Darko spills the milk in “Mellow Yellow 2,” one of the more emotional songs on the album. Anyone familiar with Darko’s music knows he experiences suicidal thoughts, and ialive’s talk of existential crises doesn’t help this puddle of moo spreading on the tiles. Spilled milk is probably a menu item at the “Hell Hole Café” based on ialive’s verse detailing the café’s atmosphere. Yes, that’s ialive in the first verse as “Drool G Rap,” his post-dental Novocaine persona.
The contrast between ialive and Darko is most recognizable on “Mountain,” as both fellas describe the annoyance of life’s obstacles. Ialive expresses gratitude for what he has and offers support, while Darko, who is used to his music being misunderstood, continues to place himself above other artists because he knows he’s great. These two aren’t opposites, but their outlooks on life are interesting to examine simultaneously. In “Dying To Get Old” the two find common ground in their dislike of the all-too-common life of working a job and simply dying. We’re still young and I admit I have a mild fear of missing out on any potential talent I might possess, but maybe when I’m older I’ll find purpose in working a desk job for someone? The rub is that I might not know until it’s too late. Also, money makes people do crazy things, like buy fanny packs.
Continuing with the theme of incredible beats, “Musician Street” showcases just how effortlessly these guys do their thing. Torito makes the most of his guest verse and around this point I realized that I didn’t have any complaints about this album so far. “Jackpot” sounds like a long-neglected free-parking space in Monopoly, and just like when my brother grabs that pile of colored bills in America’s favorite cutthroat property simulator, I’m jealous of The Hell Hole Store’s inexplicable skill. Darko’s line “if you think you’re free, try going anywhere without money” is also true to Monopoly, as players have no choice in the matter when they land on a maxed-out Park Place. Your cousin will force you to stay in the hotel even if you can’t afford it, effectively ruining Thanksgiving. “No Coupons” contains a tight bass that reminds me of a dream I had where the Predator was rolling dice with some youths in my backyard, and they weren’t playing Monopoly. He called me an ugly motherfucker and then a tight bass started playing. Then I said “you’re sick” and shot him with my legally-owned dream gun that I carry in my more violent dreams. That’s enough Monopoly talk for one review.
I know what it is but I don’t recall anyone I know ever using it, but when I hear the track “Moviefone,” rappers turned actors come to mind. I also appreciate the line about sourdough and live culture. Leave it to ialive to being nice enough to include bread on this album. “You Forgot The Bread” is a solo operation by ialive, serving as an ambassador of what The Hell Hole Store is all about: Good vibes and great music. I could try to decode the meaning of “Room 123” like those straw-graspers on Room 237, but the summary below is intriguing so I would read that instead. What I will say is the beat reminds me of any 80s movie involving a kid and an alien. And ialive is in rare form as he rips somebody apart with words, I honestly don’t know who, but I wouldn’t want to be that person. The album closes with “Sorry, We’re Closed,” detailing Darko’s frustrations at a venue gone wrong. It’s a fitting end for an excellent album by some artists who don’t feel appreciated for their work by music fans. See if you can spot the DJ Cucumber Slice reference. Extremely fun fact: Bobbito was the commentator in NBA Street Vol. 2 and NBA Street V3.
Return To The Hell Hole Store is the buddy comedy of the summer. A couple of good chums sharing their fun, their moods, and their sounds with all who care to listen. The Hell Hole Store exudes the dissatisfaction many people have with working our entire life until we die, but aside from that the only theme is healthy beats and anti-cliché styles we don’t deserve. Darko and ialive are like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble without the dinosaurs and verbal abuse. Their chemistry is to be envied by sinners, their balance of pessimism and optimism is fresh, and I want to steal their give-and-take. The unassuming solidity of this album is what propels it into excellence. How often do you hear an album and really, and I mean really just let the whole thing play? The Hell Hole Store doesn’t preach a cure-all to Earth’s evils with this project, and it’s fine to address issues with music, but it’s also fine not to. You don’t hear this all the time anymore. The Hell Hole Store gets straight 5s on Yelp from this very satisfied customer.
Return To The Hell Hole Store released on the net June 23, 2017. It can be purchased on bandcamp from Already Dead Tapes & Records, and if you click these words I’ll take you there for free. Except—hey get back here and give me my tip! Dang. Another ride and glide. I’m gonna starve if I don’t get some money soon. Oh, well. Until next time. At least I still have my exclusive artist commentary. I’ll share it with you if you can solve my riddle. Here it goes: “Scroll.”
Written, recorded, and produced in the greatest record store in all of Philadelphia, Brewerytown Beats. Donnie made the beat sampling a record he found in the dollar bin. The start of the song is about a time where I was with my mom in the car and Tom Waits came on WXPN and she changed the channel and made fun of it. That’s the point I realized I’m adopted. Not really, just kidding mom, love you.
Green Ski Mask
Recorded in the lovely Knights Inn of Kalamazoo. An ode to the genius of Goon Planet. We had just saw them tear down Louie’s Back Room, the night before. It was one of the most incredible sets I’ve ever seen. Truly brilliant. It was on my mind while writing the chorus. The lead singer wore a green ski mask the whole night, as he does at each show. Don’s verse is a juxtaposition of mine. He’s softer than cotton candy flavored tooth paste, but I have corrupted him it seems. Much like our relationship. I think some of my cynicism has unfortunately rubbed off on the warm-hearted Donovan. The song’s a metaphor of course, but there’s some truth to it as well.
This track was recorded at Cody Jones house in Pittsburgh before our show that night of tour. Cody was originally gonna go on that specific tour with us, and we wanted to call it “The Three’s Company Tour”. So because of that I made a beat sampling the theme song. Later on it became this. Fuck the Phoenix Cafe in Detroit, and the Burlington Bar in Chicago. Both venues we got cut off early on tour.
Mellow Yellow 2
The first song recorded for this album. Me and Don made the beat together at Emma’s House. A sequel to our track from the first Hell Hole Store. This time we actually sample the original Mellow Yellow by the beautiful genius Donovan, my personal favorite songwriter. Also performed for that NPR dealy-o we didn’t win. Oh, well.
Hell Hole Cafe
Written over at All These Finger’s place, my favorite producer. We got to hang out with him while we were over in Michigan. This song was inspired by our journey we went through at the Phoenix Cafe in Detroit. A very odd place that for sure didn’t deserve our beautiful art. “Yelling at the customers like Trap Sade.” Trap Sade is a very aggressive rapper from NY who yelled at me and my friend Jack Wilson to stand up at the very start of her performance. She yelled at everyone forcefully to stand up before ever performing one song, and singled me and Jack out, it was very off-putting. Just wanted to preface that lyric. ialive’s verse was recorded after a trip to the dentist. Novocaine’d up with a mouth still numb he forged the creation of Drool G Rap. Also an ode to “Lineage” by Serengeti.
Another track written, produced, and recorded in the lovely Brewerytown Beats. Again, I’m not sure what Don sampled for this beat, but it was from the dollar section, and he killed it. One of my favorite beats on the album. Just straight up BARS! I don’t drive a white Dodge Fiero, (which doesn’t even exist, Pontiac made those cars) but everything else I said is absolutely true. The ending is taken from one of my favorite songs of all time, Donovan’s “There is a Mountain” which is something me and ialive first connected on when we met at The Fire (Hell Hole) when he opened for DJ Abilities.
Dying to Get Old
Another song recorded at the Knights Inn in Kalamazoo. It’s about jobs and death, at least that’s what I take it as. My part in the chorus is taken from Eyedea’s “make money and die that’s the American way”. I wrote the lyrics way before the election of course but the Beastie Boys line I used “we got a president we didn’t elect” became a lot more true with Donald in office.
ialive, Torito, and Johan Sebastian all live on Miller St. in Philly (if you ever wanna go beat em up or something). I wrote the chorus driving to Don’s house to record one day. Torito was telling us about a conversation he had with his mom about Miller St. and she suggested they should call it Musician Street. Being that there’s 3 musicians (possibly more?) who live there. Torito killed it, really glad we got him on there.
Written, recorded, and produced at Brewerytown Beats, digging through their dollar section. I don’t remember what I sampled for the beat, but it was a lot of fun to make. One of those songs that are fun to make but also have a meaningful message behind them. I really like this one. “If you think you’re free, try going anywhere without money” is a paraphrasing of something Bill Hicks once said. ialive’s verse on here was about a true story his dad told him. There’s a lot of truth in our lyrics, no matter how silly they sound, they probably happened.
Written, produced, and recorded at Brewerytown Beats. We did happen to meet a hooker at the Knights Inn one night, but respectfully declined. I had recently watched the original Twin Peaks series before the making of this album, that’s why there’s a lot of Twin Peaks references in my verses. Das Racist was my favorite group, and I was very bummed when they broke up, I’m glad I got to finally lament that in this song. Don absolutely crushes it on this song, “you got a wedgie like Oswald Cobblepot” c’mon?! He’s a madman, I love it. This song even has a direct Jingle All The Way reference in it. Has Run The Jewels done that? Probably not, that’s why we’re the best.
Once again, this track was written, produced, and recorded at Brewerytown Beats. I have no idea what I sampled but it turned out to be very Alchemist-esque. Pretty haunting, yet soulful somewhere. I only know of Moviefone because of Seinfeld, but ialive is actually old enough to have used that service. I really love this track, it’s dark yet goofy. I think we’re both pretty good at that combination.
You Forgot The Bread
Another Seinfeld reference, and ialive solo track. “Even Jesus Christ got the Hell Hole on tape.” Probably my favorite song on the album. It’s amazing. I can say that without sounded conceited since I didn’t have anything to do with the making of it. It’s unbelievable. Some times I feel we’re these prophets that everyone ignores and assumes is insane. I think this track sums up that feeling very well. “Get out of line, you get no tapes!”
Written, recorded, and produced in Room 123 of the Knights Inn. A reference to Kool Keith’s Apartment 223 from the Dr. Dooom album First Come, First Served. We brought a bunch of microwaveable food on this tour since our room in the hotel had a microwave. We ate a whole giant box of White Castle burgers, it was great! I love milkshakes, and quite possibly the best milkshake I ever had was in Kalamazoo at the cafe next to Satellite Records. I would get a milkshake, Don would get a coffee each morning. I was Buddy the Elf in that shower it was so small. “I ordered pizza from Tower Records” is another Kool Keith reference, he’s my favorite rapper of all time. Don’s favorite drop he did on the whole album is for my line “hookers like my Nascar cooler”. The first night we were there, a lady of the night complemented me on my Nascar cooler I borrowed from my dad. “I’m a slice of Mancini’s, you’re a pizza Pringle”. My favorite slice of pizza I ever had is from this spot way out there in New Jersey called Mancini’s. It was delicious. I won’t say who Don’s verse is about, I’ll instead let the lyrics speak for themselves. This is my favorite ialive verse on the album. He felt super mean when he wrote it, which is always a good sign.
Sorry We’re Closed
And now the end is near. The last song on the album. I wrote my viscous verse in Chicago about my experiences that day. Everything I said is 100% true. This is my favorite verse I’ve ever done. All These Fingers made the beat, he’s a beautiful genius and I love him for it. I’ll let this song speak for it’s self. There’s not much I can say about it, just listen, please. Thank you.