Cartel Madras Take Their Alt-Rap Creativity to the Next Level on 'The Serpent & the Tiger'
Published Aug 16, 2021Calgary-based alternative rap duo Cartel Madras are back with the third and final instalment of their Project Goonda trilogy of EPs, The Serpent & the Tiger. The EP is a showcase of everything that makes Cartel Madras unique, presented in full force across 10 tracks. The duo, made up of sisters Eboshi and Contra, are really flexing their versatility as artists on this project.
The myriad sounds they've explored throughout their discography are present here, often being taken a step further. Those sounds range in everything from alt-rap, trap and drill to techno and house, with influences from punk and traditional Tamil music coming through across their music. Originally hailing from Chennai, India, the duo have dubbed their eclectic sound "goonda rap," from a South Asian term for "gangster" or "thug." And with this trilogy being the blueprint, goonda rap goes hard, especially on The Serpent & the Tiger.
Eboshi and Contra use everything in their toolbox as rappers on this EP. "DRIFT" shows off the duo's technical skills with rapid-fire flows packed to the brim with interior rhyme schemes, while both "WORKING" and "Dream Girl Concept" slow things down for some chilled-out verses about being confident and empowered. Meanwhile, other cuts show Cartel Madras unafraid to dig deeper. On "EBOSHI'S NEVADA," Eboshi describes the heartbreak of a relationship ending, of taking things too far and not knowing how to say how she really feels, while "LAVENDER NIGHTZ" has verses from both sisters about overcoming insecurities and getting past toxic people who try to keep you down. While Cartel Madras pull off rapping about getting money and getting laid well, as they do elsewhere on the EP, it's less impactful than the more vulnerable topics they discuss on these two tracks.
The EP also features a trio of strong guest verses, the most notable of which is Backxwash's appearance on "DEEPINTHEJUNGLE," a heady alt-rap song that wouldn't feel out of place on a JPEGMAFIA project. The sisters' deadpan delivery of cold-blooded bars like "Never humble I'm always alarming / Try to start a fight but these bitches stay sparring / Appetite for destruction and I'm always starving" contrast nicely with Backxwash's distorted, pummelling flows. Chopped-up choir samples sting in between hard, clipping beats and a sinister 808 bassline, creating a cold, razor-sharp texture. The track is a centrepiece for the EP, which shifts from hard-as-nails bangers to a four-track run of smooth, sexy house tunes.
Production-wise, The Serpent & the Tiger brings an impressive diversity of sounds across the 10 tracks to match Eboshi and Contra's versatile spitting, with the help of a handful of producers including Dom Dias, Naphi and Jide. The first leg of the EP hits the ground running with some of the hardest tracks the duo have released, such as "FEAR & LOATHING" and "The Green Scare," the latter of which is a heart-pounding drill song driven by 808s and traditional drum samples. While some of Cartel Madras' earlier work has toyed with house influences in high-energy, driving dance beats, recent singles "WORKING" and "Dream Girl Concept" show off a softer, more chic sound. They push this sound even further on "LAVENDER NIGHTZ," and "CONTRABAND," which feel like they should be soundtracking a high-end fashion show or an artsy club for young socialites, thanks in no small part to Tyris White's production.
The EP's variety results in some weaker moments, such as closing track "MOON DRILLE," which falters by virtue of it being a serviceable pop-rap song. The flows are tight and Shiro Jackson's feature is solid, but as a closer, the song feels a little flat and out of place when all the other tracks have been so pumped full of Cartel Madras's charisma. The song has legs, but it stands out because it doesn't stand out — it sounds like it could have come from anyone, rather than being uniquely Cartel Madras.
Ultimately, Cartel Madras bring more than enough energy, character and attitude to make The Serpent & the Tiger a must-listen. (Royal Mountain/Sub Pop)