Review Summary: Jaw-dropping sophomore effort from this Alabama duo, stuffed with beautiful production and adept lyrics
G-Side are an underground duo coming out of the slums of Athens, Alabama, a state that has yet to find a definitive rapper or rappers to champion it. They consist of the rappers ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova (government names Stephen Harris and David Williams, respectively). I first read about them when I gave a cursory glance to an interview on the hip-hop blog No Trivia (http://brandonsoderberg.blogspot.com), and was both intrigued and turned off. I’m skeptical about rappers that say that they’re “tryin’ to bring hip-hop back for real” (as I noticed they declared in the interview), just as I am skeptical about small-time rappers from unknown labels. Nevertheless, I trust that blog’s tastes, and decided to look them up, finding their Myspace and reluctantly pausing the stoner doom I had been listening to.
The opening notes of the first track I heard – Speed of Sound – blew me away, with its ethereal production in response to which my head couldn’t help but bob, syrupy (or should I say sizzurpy?) hook, and precise rapping. I located the album as soon as humanly possible, and after listening to the whole thing through, I knew I had to write a review for it – more people need to be exposed to this.
The first thing that hits you on this album is the luscious production (according to No Trivia, done by Block Beataz out of Huntsville, Alabama). I know I said it before, but ethereal is really the best adjective I can find to describe it. Owing to the album title, it evokes futuristic images of space (they sample space-related footage throughout the album). It’s perhaps reminiscent of some of, say, Outkast
’s more electronic production, or even some of fellow Alabaman Rich Boy
’s production on the Bigger Than the Mayor mixtape (one of my favorite mixtapes, hell, one of my favorite releases period of 2008). Nevertheless, it still manages to retain a beautifully soulful quality, notable on Swangin’
. Overall, it’s on a league with some of the best production I’ve heard in rap, from the airy strings of G S I D E R
to the screwed vocals and cosmic synth of Hit da Block
to the banging piano of We Own Da Building
which I could swear is sampled from Ghostface Killah
’s Nutmeg to Run Thingz
, which seriously sounds like it came straight from a rave.
If the production is the album’s foundation, rappers ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova raise that foundation to the level of a skyscraper. They’re on par with the best Southern lyricists – UGK
, and Scarface
– and the sheer sincerity boosts their already impressive skills. They alternate their style over the various beats to be found on the album, ranging their flows from a slow drawl to a fast-paced succession of syllables, seemingly fitting as much as they can into a line but still making it smooth. Out of the two, ST has the lower, more laid-back flow, while Clova has a higher-pitched voice, but both rappers are very versatile and skilled. More than anything else, however, the rappers evoke a sense of reality rare in a lot of hip hop, reminiscent of Clipse
or the atmosphere on Mobb Deep
’s The Infamous; even the club banger, Rubba Bandz
, keeps the reality intact with the duo’s street-smart verses.
Especially suggestive of Clipse is the dope-dealing tale of Hit da Block
, which, as I’ve already mentioned, has some of the best production on the entire album (a high claim, given the array of beats to be found here). ST 2 Lettaz opens the song with a classic story-telling verse remarkable for its brevity:
We three deep on the interstate / hit the beat off, check the speakerbox, that’s plenty weight / My P.O. say he’s s’posed to stay in the state / We can’t sleep until we know that all our niggas ate / I’m only 21 and I could probably get more years than that if they find out what’s in the trunk / As kids, we were great hoopers / Now we weight movers, only offensive, we shake state troopers
The same story told by Young Jeezy would be littered with bombastic synth, adlibs, and a sense of triumph and respect. When G-Side tell it, it’s more depressing than anything else – they point out the dual life of the drug dealer like the best lines of Clipse without ever getting confrontational or moving from their status as simple street commentators.
This album isn’t flawless – I find sometimes the duo’s styles tend to intersect, and I’d like to see more differentiation between the two. Additionally, the guest spots here tend to distract rather than add to the rappers, as guest spots should. Finally, listeners who care primarily about lyrics eschewing materialism probably won’t care for what they find here; G-Side have considerable lyrical depth, but they still rap about what they know.
All in all, G-Side are quite simply some of the greatest new hip hop I’ve heard in quite a long time, and I recommend them to any casual hip hop listener to expand their tastes. I anticipate a fruitful career from this duo and hope to see them put Bama on the map.