I find Hip Hop to be one of the biggest musical misconceptions among the public. I don’t know if anyone else has found this, but I see it all the time. Artists like 50 Cent and Kanye West give off this image of pretentiousness and total, unfounded self confidence and seeing as they are two of the most famous hip hop artists in the world right now, that pretentiousness is now the stereotype of rappers. On top of that, something else that skews this view on hip hop is the belief that it is just talking, and what talent is that showing? Why should people be making money off their ability to talk?
The reality is that making good hip hop requires a certain amount of talent on multiple levels. While the focus is on the words, the backing beats are possibly the most important thing in a rap record. They are the lynchpin. Without good beats, the record will most probably collapse even with a top quality rapper. The beats give the ambience and the focus that every record needs, not just hip hop. As an added bonus, it also gives rock and metal fans something else with which to appreciate this form of music. Now again, some people may argue that ‘he’s not even playing it himself, how is it talented?’ My answer to that would be ‘Why don’t you go and find the exact right drum beat or the exact sample and then implement them in a way that perfectly suits the song?’ That usually makes them see sense.
Thankfully, the beats on this album are so near perfect. DJ Kno, the man in charge, knows what he’s doing and it definitely shows. His compositions complement the vocals perfectly, weaving in and out changing the focus almost constantly. The drum patterns and bass are just excellent, creating a backdrop worthy of Dan The Automator. Even guitar solos are thrown into the mix in some of the songs, Inhale
in particular, and once again, the production finds the guitar and the bass just entwining around each other creating a fantastic soundscape. The only beats that stays consistent throughout the album are the yawning bass and acoustic guitars. Everything else is mixed up to keep things interesting. On one track, there would be piano with just the right amount of echo and on the next there would be saxophones. The beats always suit the track they are on. As was said before the beats are always able to keep your yet still create a good backdrop for the vocals. Due to this attention to detail, Kno only delivers one verse on the entire album and that too, is great. It makes you wonder why he wouldn’t deliver more, but then you remember the beats and it all makes sense. Sacrifices must be made to develop such distinction.
The other members of the group, Deacon the Villain and Natti also give exceptional performances. They both share their verses equally throughout the album. Between them both, Deacon is the better rapper. His voice is gentler on the ears and his flow is much more agreeable. That isn’t to say that Natti is a bad rapper, but he can’t stand up to Deacon. His voice is much more ragged and well suits the darker elements of the album. However, it is always enjoyable hearing two different rappers that can communicate with each other so well. The album also contains cameos from other artists. Namely, Cee-Lo Green of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley fame and Tonedeff. Cee-Lo’s part, on Caved In
is very sleepy and relaxed. His voice is instantly recognisable if you’re familiar with his other works, and if you aren’t, it’s still good to hear his excellent voice. Tonedeff, on the other hand has a much larger part to play. The Gates
is all about him at the gates of heaven, and it’s one of the more interesting songs on the album, mainly due to the verbal interplay between him and Deacon.
The album follows a concept, the album ‘follows the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, faith and sin’. Whether that appeals to some people out there is not my business. What is my business though is how good this concept is and how well it is pulled off. The concept is not necessary to the enjoyment of the album, but of course it enhances the appeal of the whole album. This appeal is not unfounded, as much of it is very good but it seems unfocused. If you have the patience to work out the concept while listening to the lyrics, you will be rewarded. It all concludes well towards the end and although the moral has been heard multiple times from many different people, it seems like we all need reminders of it now and then.
Lyrically, the album is on form. Not just for following the concept either. Several of the songs can be listened as a separate entity from the rest of the album and these are perhaps the best songs on the album. The two examples that immediately spring to mind are the songs Brain Cell
and Nothing To Give
. Brain Cell follows someone’s life; it is not important who as it is meant universally. The repeated chorus line goes, ‘Living in a world no different from a cell’. This is basically the whole message of the song in one line. The verses elaborate further. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best verse comes from Kno. I’ll paraphrase the song: no matter where you are, how old you are, how privileged you think you might be, you are trapped. Conceptually the song is entirely the protagonist’s imagination, but it’s still strong and may resonate within certain people, and that’s what a rap song is for. The other highlight, Nothing To Give
follows Deacon The Villain’s character as he takes a stroll through the city at night and sees the ‘underhanded theatrics’ that happen on a nightly basis. While the message may not be as strong, it is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, with possibly the best beat too of high piano notes with a good amount of echo, but that’s difficult to say.
So there you have it, a hip hop album that could potentially appeal to everyone. For the hip hop fans, it’s impossible not to like. For more rock oriented listeners, the beats will more than suffice to give enjoyment. Of course, there will always be the arrogant ‘metalheads’ of the world that will merely take a look at the cover of this album and dismiss it, but really, who cares about them? It’s their loss that they’re missing out on one of the gems of the hip hop world.