Serengeti hails from the south side of Chicago and is the newest artist on the Chicago-based independent label F5 Records. Aside from the group Slow Motion Fiasco that he formed in college, he has been rapping solo since 1993. After enrolling at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1995, he quickly became known as a breaker. In 1997 he linked up with producer DJ Crucial, and here in 2003 we have the product of their efforts, Dirty Flamingo.

Storytelling rhymes highlight his life experiences. Lyrical inspiration is derived from women, global perspectives, and classic hip-hop groups of early 90's [KMD, Black Sheep, Third Bass, Brand Nubian, Digital Underground, Native Tongue]. He boasts a lengthy and eclectic list of musical influences including Prince, Bj�rk, Radiohead, Hi-Fidel, Billie Holiday - even the soundtracks to the musicals Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Westside Story. With Dirty Flamingo, Serengeti wanted to 'put out a solid rap album� something fresh.'

According to the CEO of F5 Records, the album's producer DJ Crucial intended to make the record sound 'super underground and dirty.' Mission accomplished - almost a little too well. It's not a bad album, but it moves at the speed of erosion. Serengeti's delivery vacillates between spoken word and monotone street. Most of the arrangements lack complexity, which isn't always a bad thing, but on Dirty Flamingo a good number of the tracks rival Tylenol PM in terms of sleep inducement. Throughout, the beats have been muted for effect, many of which dressed with melancholy (occasionally jazzy) keys, select 80's sampling, and some scratching. Unfortunately, none of the beats are really distinctive, and as a result, I quickly became disinterested. Even more unfortunate, Serengeti isn't that strong of an emcee to compensate for the downplayed production.

There aren't any true standout tracks, but 'Paper Plates' is perhaps the most sophisticated song on the disc. There is some semi-predictable sampling here with Lauryn Hill's 'Everything is Everything' ['MCs ain't ready to take it to the Serengeti�'], but the unorthodox piano works well and does make the track unique: 'Around town with some fall misses/ dress sweet like designer dishes/ fine wine sweet as Hershey kisses/ mad tight like I got stitches/ mad fresh like I found a well with a million wishes/ Dirty Flamingo/ dirtiest jingles/ funnest nights and games of bingo/ I never lied and blamed it on the dingo.'

'Real Honest' is another decent track - a classic beat heavy on the bass keys: Keep smilin'/ stay stylin'/ stay gold/ not even cold/ hot enough to melt the mold/ it's ultra fresh/ sharp as British bayonets/ we don't need no nets/ it's come correct/ it's real honest/ straight up dudes all got promise/ I'm astonished/ asteroids and frozen comets/ it's not garnished/ rap sizzle/ go for the gusto/ don't let go/ of what you think/ the blink is our decision to motivate/ like I was chillin' in my skivvies/ boys are back in town like Thin Lizzy/ who the hell is he/ Apache gunman/ desperado/ are you mulatto/ a foot on the throttle/ come home and hit the bottle/ like, yeah this is good/ this is how it really should be/ dismissing the thought/ kiss who you wish/ think about how much fun and excitement/ it's gonna be/ it's like, go nuts/ stuff this life when it sucks, what/ no time to keep doors shut/ so okay, that's enough/ and here's a room/ fly your magic thing to the moon/ consume the stars/ evaporate the structure's bars/ cuz you got it/ you owe it to yourself/ you owe it to us/ so let's go nuts/ let's go crazy/ you owe it to me/ you owe it to yourself/ you owe it to us/ you owe it to yourself/ you owe it to us.'

The liner notes list 19 tracks. There are really 24. Interestingly enough, some of the better beats and livelier deliveries are found on the nameless 21-24. These songs also feature some 'no you didn't' sampling as well. Number 21 contains a sample from 80's one hit wonders Nu Shooz ['I Can't Wait']. Track number 22 shocked me further with the incorporation of 'Mercedes Boy' by Pebbles. As far as titled tracks go, better songs include 'What A Day' featuring Hi-Fidel, 'Goals' featuring Jerry G., 'Busty Women,' and 'Chuck Norris.'

I don't really know what to make of Dirty Flamingo. I thought that if I kept listening to it over and over it would get better. It really didn't. I guess you could brand this album raw, stripped-down, deliberately under-produced, and maybe even visionary. The album is too long - it could have been tightened up and cut down to showcase a few solid tracks. He very definitely rejects the current trends of commercializing rap music, but he is not pledging allegiance to the jaded MC professors either. His ideas have potential, but I found Dirty Flamingo to be too abstract for a debut album. Serengeti may be a borderline idealist with his own agenda, yet something got skewed in the execution. I'm curious to see what he does with his next album, Gasoline Rainbows, scheduled for release in 2004.

- Kristen Asklund