Field Mob - Can’t Stop Us (MCA, 2000)
You could actually feel the collective disappointment in Albany, GA, the day Ray premiered in 2004 and opened not in Charles’ birthplace, but in Greenville, FL, two hours to the South. Though his birth certificate has never been recovered, Albany claims Ray Charles as one of its own, an integral part of its cultural patrimony. The city receives exactly one mention in his autobiography, but it’s a big one: “I was born in Albany, GA, on September 23, 1930.” The very next sentence describes his family’s move to Florida, but you can see why we thought we deserved some screen time in the biopic.
As it happened, we only had to wait another year for our fifteen minutes (or really seconds), which would arrive, as these things sometimes do, in the form of a Ludacris song, appropriately titled “Georgia,” and built on a Jamie Foxx-as-Ray Charles sample. Both of the song’s featured guests, Shawn Jay and Smoke (formerly Kalage and Boondox Blax) of the rap group Field Mob, made references to their hometown, “a small city called Albany.”
Of the years before he lost his sight, Charles wrote, “All I ever saw—and I’m talking literally—was the country.” That is, Albany and the surrounding region served as foundational sensory background, providing the basic vocabulary of images he would rely on for the rest of his life. Similarly, it is impossible to think about Field Mob without considering their context, what they called the “filthy, nasty, dirty South.” The field as opposed to the urban, and as opposed to the house.
Initially, to me and most of the people I grew up around, this context was the only notable thing about Field Mob: they were from the same place as I was, which seemed interesting. Regional rap has so normalized hometown pride that it’s impossible to make it through a mixtape without knowing what Major Urban Area an MC came up around, but there’s still something stranger and more potent about being from the same small town as someone successful. It’s not just a ‘vibe’ or an ‘atmosphere’ that you have in common, you’ve actually been to the same strip-malls and lakes and courthouses. Your life experiences share a setting (physical, if not socio-economic).
Field Mob reveled in their status as big fish in a small pond, going above and beyond their civic responsibilities as Albany natives, and in return they were idolized. I saw them once at a packed CD signing in a local Sam Goody, a black-lit corner of the Albany Mall that probably made more off of Sublime posters and Reservoir Dogs zippos than music. This was around the time that “Sick of Being Lonely” was blowing up, and as I remember it they both wore straw hats. My district’s city commissioner was also there: they took a photo together and he threw up a peace sign.It’s weirdly gratifying to recognize how much I still love their music, and particularly the first album. I have almost no conception of how they’re remembered elsewhere (one-hit wonders? DTP cast-offs?), but I see this record as some kind of unimpeachable classic. It’s all there in “Can’t Stop Us,” with its tongue-twisting, proto-Gucci wordplay (“slick 6 style switch like a whip stick shift”), mixing hardscrabble reality rap with Southern Gothic mysticism straight out of Harry Crews (“a punch in a snake fight or a preacher that play dice”). Today, most of their time is spent complaining about money Ludacris owes them, riffing about weed on Twitter, and trying and failing to pander to an audience that’s mostly moved on. They don’t live in Albany anymore, and neither do I. But you won’t have to wait for a Field Mob biopic to get an impression of their city: it’s the underlying subject of every song they recorded. If not a movie, they at least have earned a statue.
Their last few tapes were mostly a lot of disappointing post-Wayne identity crisis but at one point I spent a lot of time trying to put Atlanta-wary friends onto them.
“I’ll put a hole through the head of the horse on your polo shirt!” is second only to Freddie Foxx’s “kidnap your kids & raise them to fight me” in the overly elaborate rapped threats hall of fame.