The Sum of All Beards: Food for Animals hip-hop is hair-raising. hip-hop is hair-raising.

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Despite its penchant for woofer-throttling, high-tech bombast, Food for Animals couldn’t be more old-school. The group from the Maryland ’burbs embraces noise in a way that few hip-hop acts do, but calling the racket futuristic or dystopian would sell it short. FFA’s second disc, Belly, picks up where 2004’s criminally ignored Scavengers left off: Its beats are constructed almost exclusively from crackle and fuzz, and its rhymes veer from the personal into the impressionistic. The key terms here, however, are “beats” and “rhymes”—the group sticks to hip-hop orthodoxy (big sounds, thoughtful rhetoric) and just happens to present it through nerdy machinery. That’s FFA’s strength; it sticks to what it knows, even if it means dropping a Silver Spring reference now and then. Lead rapper Vulture Voltaire—a tall, pale, bearded dude—does a bit less hollering this time around, but he’s no less passionate: “I’m like, yeah/Yeah, my generation got clowned/And still my surroundings can’t even make a sound/You say you can’t find the words, and I say/Shit, I’ve stolen more than one from your lost and found,” he raps on the anti-apathy anthem “Shhhy.” FFA’s other core member, producer Ricky Rabbit, turns the song into a lesson on tension and release: While a synth loop anxiously shimmers in the background, the digi-bass throbs at a martial, fist-pumping tempo. It’s the album’s most accessible track, but that’s no knock on the others: The glitched-up “Bulk Gummies” and the hyper “Mutumbo” are both funky as hell (for FFA), while the chaotic “Belly Kids” and the percussive, jittery “You Right” both push the group’s aesthetic into psychedelic territory that Scavengers never quite reached. All of those songs, incidentally, feature new member Hy, whose hopped-up delivery provides apt contrast to Vulture Voltaire’s stentorian tendencies. Hy holds down the back end of “Belly Kids” like a political-thought professor, but many of his lines are nearly eaten by rushes of static. When the thunder stops, though, he says this: “But fuck bein’ humble/When it comes to these raps, I’ve sung millions/So all of the MCs in existence are my illegitimate children.” It’s a welcome blast of ego, even if it’s a tad facetious. FFA fills out Belly with some well-pruned instrumentals, a couple of tracks where Vulture Voltaire plays entertainer (“Tween My Lips,” “Summer Jam”), and a finale (“Grapes”) where he philosophizes about the inadequacy of language—and the grief that accompanied the death of his mother. “Because of you I had a childhood the size of the sky,” he says to her, injecting that rarest of hip-hop elements: true pathos.