by Nick Hanover
Are there any Austin emcees more slept on than Sertified? My gut says no. The LNS Crew affiliate has one of the most unique and identifiable flows in the scene, and continuously churns out some of the hardest hitting singles in Austin but struggles to get proper notice. Even I’m guilty of this. I’ve covered Sertified’s recent singles and videos but I’m just now getting around to going in-depth with Chips and Salsa, his full length collaboration with Harris the Terrorist (aka H+, aka Haris Q) featuring guest appearances by some of Austin’s best and brightest. The duo put the album up on Bandcamp this month and six months after its official release, it arguably feels even fresher than it did at the start of the year.
Maybe that’s because Chips and Salsa feels more like a summer mixtape, full of party starting beats and debauched tales from the morning after as well as grimy, humid deep cuts. It’s the latter group that does the most to prove Sertified’s vitality, showcasing his drawled out flow and knack for depicting regretful actions and hometown frustrations in a widescreen format. Sertified offers up a view of Austin that differs from the frequently goofy boosterism the city’s rock and pop stalwarts indulge in, and this willingness to speak bluntly brings out the best in his collaborators as well.
In the self-explanatory “Lost Land,” Sertified kicks things off with a delivery that sounds like the vocal equivalent of smdh and opens the way for the best verse I’ve ever heard Dowrong turn in. It’s done over a particularly melancholic H+ beat, where the hook comes from some sad Western whistler as Sertified details the street cycle of violence begating violence in perpetuity until the record skips and Dowrong comes at the subject with fire and resentment. “Back 2 the Block” allows Sertified himself to get heated, targeting unnamed enemies who backed him into a corner and are about to have hell to pay. Here Sertified is flanked by Stat1 and Cap’n Kirk, who further egg Sertified on, all as H+’s nasty beat builds up a mood of infinite menace and street swagger.
Album closer “New Day” is just as detailed about the game Sertified can’t escape but Marko MC’s airy hook gives the subject more morose dimension, softening the edges of Sertified’s jagged flow while maintaining focus on the tragedy of being trapped in a cycle you can’t control. Sertified tackles a different cycle in “Last Night,” contemplating Austin’s codependent relationship with alcohol, struggling to remember what he did last night, every night. Sonically, it stands out from the rest of the album with its emphasis on ’80s coke guitars and a hazy undercurrent of indecipherable conversation. It’s a well-crafted bit of form following function, H+’s production matching the murky memory issues Sertfied and Ndeo the Blindsider lyrically explore.
The other notable aesthetic detour doesn’t fare quite as well, though. Released as the first single, “Fresco” had a lot of musical promise, syncing up with the international beat crossbreeding H+ had been exploring on his own, here merging RZA grime with salsa, a play on the album title. But Sertified’s flow gets disrupted by the hyperactivity of the beat, colliding recklessly with his hazy style, ruining the slow burning menace he so excels at. As far as genre collisions go, “The One” is a more viable execution of seemingly contradictory styles, featuring a more seductive yet still self-deprecating Sertified talking up heartbreak as a Charlie’s Angels synth theme swerves around another gorgeous Marko MC hook.
The rare moments where Chips and Salsa doesn’t triumph nonetheless serve as proof of Sertified and H+’s adventurousness, proving that as collaborators they bring out the best in each other and push the entire scene forward rather than letting it stagnate. Chips and Salsa is ultimately one of Austin hip hop’s boldest releases to date, consistent in artistic vision and ambition but also largely consistent in delivering on the promise of that ambition. It’s only a matter of time before that pays off in attention from outside the city limits.
Sertified plays Flamingo Cantina this Thursday, July 7th with Kray*FKR
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover