Though profuse, sports analogies in hip-hop generally don't compute when one considers that athletes actually test their wills and skills against one other, while emcees are largely exhibitionists. But a team mentality can foster a competitive spirit and build pride. In 2012, hip-hop in Durham—a struggling scene without an obvious star and disconnected smatterings of activity and torpor—could stand ample measures of both. A new collection of Durham rap acts, dubbed Realer Music Group, is driven both by the Bull City's past reputation for raw rap and its future potential. On their debut compilation, 72-10, named after the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls' legendarily exemplary regular-season record, they play like an expansion team with a record barely above .500—that is, promising but not yet playoff-caliber.
When the players go hard, the tracks can be tougher to endure than a post-loss practice: "Pressure" finds the team mismatching a crunch-time attitude over producer Laphelle's cool-breeze beats, while the verses on "Dennis Rodman" depend upon the same bizarre assaults and affronts as Rodman's unorthodox play. If you ignore the standard-issue hooks on "6 Rings" and "Everything Rough," Lil' Bob Doe chatters charismatically on both; the star performer here, he dishes standout lines throughout the rest of 72-10. On the project's first single, "Armed and Dangerous," Wreck-N-Crew's Trie Cartier and Durham rapper Jacobi flash over the same beat used for a single by Durham duo Actual Proof earlier this year, produced by The Soul Council's E. Jones. Neither interpretation is earth-shattering, which makes it a strange move. If you're going to jack a beat, bully the original; the entry-level, street-leisure verses of Jacobi and Cartier don't make their case.
The silver lining is that a Durham crew has finally learned that its reputation and connectivity can be just as important its rapping. As a team, perhaps they've quadrupled their chances of winning the rap game. Now, if they'll practice those fundamentals again, they'd have a shot at album-length win streaks of their own.