Despite twenty-two rappers appearing on Backburner’s Continuum, it feels like a joyous, unified whole.
At the risk of using the cliched “Webster’s dictionary defines…” opening, I think it’s important to define one of the crucial elements of a continuum: “a coherent whole.” Backburner has existed since the early 2000s and has members across the country, so you can see the logistical challenges of those restrictions alone. Throw in the band’s name, coming from a tendency of Backburner’s rappers to start one project and then become enamoured with something else (leaving that initial project, yes, on the backburner). Finally, try to make the varying styles and flows of each rapper fit together so it doesn’t feel like an elementary-school collage of sounds.
There’s a nearly seven-year gap between the last Backburner record and Continuum. It takes time to put things together, and I can’t imagine the pandemic helped either. But the extra time has made this release feel like a finely woven tapestry of individual parts that are wonderful on their own and combine into something greater. Continuum is a solid continuum.
Zach Reino of the Off Book podcast once said that hip-hop is the style closest to comedy, in that the genre is the one built mostly on references and recontextualizing. Continuum is so full of references to politics and pop culture that it would be impossible to catalogue them all. Still, in merely the first verse of opener “Continuum,” you get mentions of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and a musical homage to Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.” Later, in the span of just a few seconds, we hear “balaclava,” “baklava,” and “black lava” in complete sentences. The album as a whole does not have a grand theme, but individual songs sometimes have subjects or concepts like the Scooby-Doo-referencing “Mystery Machine” or the reminiscences of “Best Night Ever.”
And there’s lots of goodness per song, given that there’s a minimum of five rappers on each of Continuum’s fifteen songs. “Juiced Crew” is inspired by the great muse of booze, with lines like “I’ll climb a tree for an apple, call me Cider Man” and a reference to the time Rob Ford was caught drunk on video in a Jamaican restaurant. Despite twenty-two members of Backburner appearing on Continuum, it still finds room for a few appearances by Aquakultre, such as the very jazzy-sounding “The MacKay Bridge is Over” and the exuberant “Hold My Drink.” While enjoying listening to this massive hip-hop crew, also look out for references to other songs, like the specific pronunciation of “you” in Soulja Boy’s “Crank That,” the specific pronunciation of “ever ever” from Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” and the “nobody listens to techno” line from Eminem’s “Without Me.”
The rappers clearly have so much fun seeing where their minds go after a jumping-off point, and it’s a joy to see them go nuts. Continuum never feels like it’s flagging in energy at almost an hour in length with such a vast crew shooting off verses. What could have been unwieldy and scattershot is instead a united front that belongs in the front of your rotation.
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