Review Summary: Almost four years after "Dirty Girl," Felt returns with a truly grimy and East Coast-inspired record via the mercurial Rhymesayers Entertainment. But will it live up to the lofty standards set by its predecessor?
The dynamic duo returns with their third offering via Rhymesayers Entertainment that follows in the tradition of their first two records – a battle-rap and sex-filled romp rife with story-telling and interesting production via Def Jux’s Aesop Rock. While not as immediately accessible as its predecessor, A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, this is a rewarding album that certainly bears resemblance to the back catalogues of Murs, Slug and Aesop Rock.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the group, Felt is a hip-hop twosome comprised of Murs of Living Legends fame (although he’s probably more known for his solo work) and Slug from Atmosphere (and also the criminally unknown and short-lived project The Dynospectrum). The group works with a different producer on each album; their first disc was produced by The Grouch (from Living Legends) and was really more of an EP – eight actual songs dedicated to Slug’s darling actress Christina Ricci. It’s rumored that each Felt album is a sly attempt by the duo to sleep with the B-list actress the album’s named after, although that seems to be more of a joke than anything. The second album was produced by Ant from Atmosphere and was released at a time when each respective emcee was experiencing the height of their commercial/mainstream viability. The single “Dirty Girl” was a borderline radio hit, although disappeared from the airwaves about as quickly as it surfaced.
This, the latest disc from the group, contains a darker sound and is accompanied by slightly darker lyrical themes. However, old school fans need not be worried as there are sex and battle rhymes all over this record. Neither Murs nor Slug are at the top of their game these days, as evidenced by their lackluster (compared to previous outings) efforts on Murs For President and You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (When Life Gives You Lemons… was only marginally better). Slug’s girl-obsessed, borderline emo raps have not aged well and it seems as if he’s relying more on reputation these days than actual skill. Murs is somewhat guilty of the same crime in that his boasting and positive-living messages just don’t come across as genuine as they used to.
Yet both emcees show the promise of their former selves at certain moments on A Tribue to Rosie Perez. At this stage in their respective careers, both rappers are at their best when they’re getting their messages across through the classic hip-hop art of story-telling (thanks, OutKast). On tracks like Permanent Standby – a song about a woman’s depressing descent into drug abuse/addiction and even prostitution across different U.S. cities – and Ghost Dance Deluxe (a story of imaginary girls that the emcee’s continue to chase as they look for Ms. Right) Slug sounds more convincing than he has in years. Murs chimes in too, adding on Ghost Dance, “Forget material girls, I need a paranormal chick from an ethereal world.” Murs also revives his convincing battle tactics earlier on the album with lines like, “Everything you love about rap in one disc, we can still break your crew off in one sentence.” It’s definitely refreshing to hear these two underground veterans keeping it real at this point in their careers. Slug even has some actual vitriol left for the fairer sex, as evidenced on the burning-hot She Sonnet – the first time he’s pulled that off since Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know (off Atmosphere’s Seven’s Travels).
That’s not to say the lyricism on this album is perfect, unfortunately. When listening to the entirety of the disc, one can’t help but think that these soundscapes could have been more deftly handled by another emcee(s) – namely Aesop himself. While Murs and Slug sound fresher than they have in years, they’re typically more suited to the smooth sounds of Midwest and West Coast production (i.e. the first two Felt albums). There are definitely a couple cringe-worthy moments on the album (Like You and Felt Good), but luckily they’re few and far between. However, as previously stated, a number of emcee’s probably could have absolutely killed this record (P.O.S., El-P, Mr. Lif and a 2003 Eyedea come to mind). In fact, if Aesop had recorded this entire disc himself (including the vocals), it likely could have gone down as his magnum opus. That’s mainly because the production is simply astounding. The beats traverse regions not typically seen in a Rhymesayers record; going from sub-woofer bangers (Bass For Your Truck) to creepy, outer-space sounding tracks (Ghost Dance Deluxe, Revisiting the Styleetron) in a matter of minutes. Aesop has really come into his own as a producer since the hit-or-miss affair that was Bazookatooth; there’s really not a bad beat on this record (although Like You comes close). Glory Burning is built around a catchy piano or harp sample, giving the song an aquatic atmosphere that lies in stark contrast to the lyrical imagery that's present in the song's chorus. Other sonic highlights that will keep the head bumping include Whaleface, She Sonnet (maybe the best beat on the album), Give It Up and Paul Reubens.
So, while the credit definitely goes to Aesop Rock for bringing out the best performances in years from Murs and Slug; it feels like a lost opportunity at best and a mixed bag at worst. Is this the best record Rhymesayers has released this year? Probably. Is that saying a whole lot? Probably not, but this is most certainly a worthwhile 2009 hip-hop release and will probably appeal to anyone who digs the previous efforts from Murs, Slug or Aesop Rock.
Welp, I finally broke down and wrote a review for Sputnik. I lurked for about 6 months, commented and listed for a few more and I believe the time for a review was probably a little overdue. Go easy on me fellas.
pretty good man, but you didn't say anything at all about the production (at least a 50% portion of a hip-hop record). personally, I think it's amazing... Aes Rock is a great producer in the making albeit many of his beats are EQ'd improperly at times (especially in terms of excessive bass levels).
i'll probably have a review up soon, but i agree with the rating... and might even increase to the vaunted 4/5 with repeated listens in my car this week.
I feel like I rarely find reviews that I agree with on so many levels as this one. My only rebuttal... the best thing Rhymesayers has released lately is Toki Wright's "A Different Mirror." Saw him put on a sick show in boston on the Fresh Air tour (opening for Ev and Brother Ali) and had to pick up his album immediately; Awesome lyrics and great production that totally captures the energy of his live show.
Also, anybody else wanna hear Felt 4 produced by BK-One?
I didn't like the Toki Wright joint much at all, unfortunately he seems limited to being Brother Ali's perma-opener. And honestly, BK-One's record had potential, but I feel as if he didn't do enough with the Brazilian sampling material besides just attach a boom bap to it (believe me, I love Brazilian music and have heard a ton)
MrGoodtime - Thanks for the props man, I haven't actually heard that Toki Wright disc yet, I'll have to peep that soon. But I do have to agree w/ kingsoby in that I've only seen him live when he's opening/hyping for Brother Ali.
I'm still on the fence about BK-One, his record was definitely spotty to me and he really doesn't have enough cred yet to be on the level of The Grouch, Ant or Aesop. I'd definitely be down with hearing a Madlib-produced Felt album, Lazerbeak and Blockhead are two other producers I wouldn't mind seeing man the boards for the dynamic duo (although they probably won't go East Coast - Blockhead - two times in a row).
It is definitely long as fuck, which is strange because the first Felt album was so short and the second was certainly not a long-winded affair. This one grows on me with every listen though, getting close to a 4. The Pirze and G.I. Josephine are two tracks I overlooked the first time or two through the record. I wish there was a 3.75 rating...
I definitely like it more than a 3.5, but I'm just not ready to justify giving it a 4 yet.. Murs and Slug (as good as they are on this compared to everything else they've done in the last 3 or 4 years) still hold this record back from achieving true excellence.
Nobody else thinks Aesop or Mr. Lif would've absolutely murked this record?
kingsoby: thanks man, I appreciate it. I always look forward to your reviews, you bring a different perspective to hip-hop than I usually take (it seems like you're more East Coast, am I off base with that?)
It is definitely great hip-hop, and that's one of the only genres that hasn't had a fantastic year. But I still don't think this is better than Raekwon's album this year and I'm not sure if it's better than Mr. Lif's either (although the production certainly is). I'll have to give this and Lif a few more listens.
I will say that the beats on this disc are at least on par or better than just about anything else released in 2009.
I still need to check out the new Mos Def and Sol. Illaquists of Sound and you've got me interested in Sole. Don't know if I've got the time/money to get all three in before the end of the year though..
I guess I said that about this year because so many records have been disappointing to me -- mainly Eyedea & Abilities and Brother Ali, but to a lesser extent I thought Born Like This was somewhat disappointing too.
This album, Never Better, I Heard It Today and Mac Lethal's two discs (Love Potion 5 and The Original 11:11 Sessions - I know he gets a lotta hate but he's my boy) all have spent heavy time in my disc player/iPod this year though.
This album definitely grew on me; unfortunately I picked up some other hip-hop discs last week so this one got pushed out of the rotation for awhile. Sol.Illaquists of Sound and Sole and the Skyrider Band have been seeing heavy rotation from me in the past week.