Review Summary: The best underground hip-hop album of 2010.
Since hitting the mainstream decades ago, hip-hop music has seen the emergence of a plethora of underground artists, as is the case with every other genre that has known the same success as rap has. While it is not uncommon at all to find quality albums in mainstream hip-hop, this past year being the ultimate proof of that with stellar releases from several mainstream rappers (Most notably Kanye West's own Fantasy
), the masses are still being fed with, umm, "bullsh*t rap", a shame to the art form they manage to take to ridiculously low standards. Underground hip-hop, for most part, is a response to this type of rap, and The Left tackles this very issue by encouraging people to put on their Gas Mask
to protect themselves from the toxic music polluting our airwaves.
They deliver their metaphorical protection in the form of a gem of an album, a response to the gimmicky rap they are attacking. The group itself is comprised of a producer (Apollo Brown), a rapper (Journalist 103) and a DJ (DJ Soko), a formula rarely seen today that harks back to the roots of rap. This battle against the people killing the art of the street is felt throughout the entire album, the first song "Gas Mask" being the clearest example, with the chorus going like this :
"I can't take it
All the wack gimmicks
I can't take it
All the fake lyrics
I can't take it
All the sex scandals
I can't take it
It's more than I can handle"
The entire song is an all-out war against, you get it, low-quality rappers whose only goals are to make money and be famous. Along with the intro, it is a perfect start to the album, setting the tone and more importantly setting the objective set by the trio for their piece of work : provide the listener with an opportunity to finally breath and enjoy "real hip-hop" amongst the glut of, well, "fake hip-hop". Thankfully the album's lyrical content is more varied than just criticising the mainstream. Wether it be love, streetlife, pure boasting, death threats or city-representing, Gas Mask deals with most of the typical subjects a hip-hop album can deal with. Granted, there is nothing overly original as far as lyrics go here, but Journalist 103 honors his name by telling the tales of the streets of Detroit from where the group hails from, with a gritty voice and heavy flow typical of the region, both of which suit the themes of the album very well.
While Journalist 103, along with the multiple guests present on the album, bring high-quality rapping to the table, the real draw here is the production. Apollo Brown, who has had a busy year also releasing his album The Reset, produces the 17 songs of the album, and he hits the nail in the coffin each of these 17 times. His production consists of soulful samples from the 60s and 70s, placed on top of hard-hitting drums and occasional horns and piano melodies. While this is a well-known formula in hip-hop, the beats on Gas Mask
are all amazing, giving an extremely cohesive feel to the album, which leaves the listener completely alone with the music. It is impossible not to bob his head with every single beat the album contains. This is what puts Gas Mask
over the top of what would have otherwise been a pretty ordinary album amongst the underground Detroit classics : Apollo Brown delivers on each and every track, with no exception. Every beat is catchy as hell, while still giving you that sense that you'll still be bobbing your head when you're rotting in your grave (That is, if someone actually thinks about playing this album near your tomb, which seems like a very f*cked-up thing to do if you ask me). DJ Soko provides the typical DJ cuts, enhancing further the street feel of the album.
It is not a simple feat for a group to be able to back up claims of basically wanting to save hip-hop (or more precisely saving the listener from bad hip-hop), but The Left manage to do just that, delivering a masterpiece in every possible way a hip-hop album could possibly do it : stellar production, tight lyrics, and great rapping. Gas Mask
is the ultimate modern underground hip-hop album, a must-have for every hip-hop purist.
Next time you see Soulja Boy cranking that soul on MTV, you know what to do : Put on your Gas Mask
, and enjoy.