Originally known as Test My Nutz, 2 Low Key’s debut mixtape has hit streaming under the name Criminalistic Knowledge. A Memphis native, the tape originally from 1994 is some of the eeriest early hip hop you can find. Memphis was always looking ahead, and even as far back as ’94, they were far beyond the curve. While NY was making some of their most definitive albums (Illmatic, Ready to Die), and West Coast was innovating with G-Funk (Regulate… G Funk Era), Memphis was creating a sound that would be used to this very day.
Lo Key – Test My Nutz [Full Tape]
A cousin of the legendary Tommy Wright III, this tape might not hit Tommy’s lyrical peaks, but he hits all the hallmarks of the scene. From his triplet flows that are can be found in every crevice of hip hop today, to the production that sounds as modern as ever. While the actual recording quality is fairly lofi, all the beats sound fresh as they still use modern techniques such as the booming 808s & prominent hi hats. The hooks are usually sample based, either using a pre-recorded vocal lick that gets slowed & paired against a faster paced flow, which can be found all over the works of the modern Phonk scene, $uicideBoy$, A$AP Rocky, too many acts to list.
The entire tape feels like something out of a horror movie. Even though the title is quite literal, “On That Devil Shit” is a prime example. Vocals soaked in reverb creating an unsettling atmosphere & a vocal sample that occasionally flies in adds to the creepy atmosphere. Paired with lyrics about masked robbery, the track is a masterclass in aesthetics while still being hip hop at its core.
2 Low Key – On That Devil Shit
While the modern Phonk scene takes heavily from this sound, what makes tapes like this feel of their own world is usually the sampling styles. Phonk aims to have this emphasis on the low end, with bass that will blow out any car speaker. This older Memphis style is still layered deeply, but there also is a highlight for the the more tonally bass guitar, adding a funkier element to the tracks that is lost in the newer styles.
This tape is far from the most innovative in the scene funnily enough, as even during this same time you had the rest of Three 6 Mafia making some of their best work to date. Yet looking at a tape like this shows how competitive that scene was, everyone vying for their own voice. History has shown the winners of the scene, but with the fantastically catalogued Memphis tapes from the early 90s that can be found, there is plenty to explore. Who knows & can properly pinpoint who influenced who, but with everyone against each other, some of the best music to every grace hip hop was born out of it.