When the Beastie Boys
started to turn themselves away from Punk and towards Hip-Hop, they made the mistake of trying to emulate what black MCs were doing, dressing and acting like they did. They were quickly prompted by Hip-Hop legend Russell Simmons to stop doing so, as he felt that Hip-Hop was about being real, about being yourself. Ever since Def Jam laid down the foundations of modern Hip-Hop, "being real" has been a centerpiece of the culture : You have to express true feelings, and never betray who you really are. Unfortunately "being real" has since seen its meaning steered more towards "selling drugs and being hard" than "being true to yourself" (Which by the way does not mean that you can't be real if you rap about selling drugs), at least in mainstream Hip-Hop, and it is definitely one of the reasons why rap is in such dire straits nowadays.
Thankfully though, this sense of realness as it was first defined can still be found in some artists that have carved a niche for themselves, mostly in underground circuits of Hip-Hop, and it is always refreshing to hear a record where the artist raps about who he really is, what he makes of his life, what are his plans and expectations, his failures and successes. The album I am about to present is one of these albums, but one that does not just content with being "real".
A seasoned vet in the Californian underground Hip-Hop scene as a part of the Living Legends
crew, Eligh has experienced his fair share of the street life, notably coping with heroin addiction following the release of 2003's Poltergeist
. Now with five years of living clean, Eligh has a lot to tell, and his aim is sharing his growth and gained wisdom with the world.
The result is Grey Crow
, an opus which lets you delve into the thoughts, heart and soul of Eligh, taking you on a journey shaped by his struggles and hopes. It is a perfect mix of bright and dark tales, touching on everything from love to death, from pain to happiness and everything in between. Eligh's strong poetical lyrics bring the absolute best out of his experiences, wether they be good or bad, and it is truly moving to hear him rap about his expectations as a future father ("When I'm a Dad") or as a lover ("Love Ov My Life").
Not only is Eligh a terrific poet, but he is also a beast on the mic, with a voice and delivery reminiscent of 90s Outkast
-era Andre 3000. This might seem like a bold statement for anyone familiar with the ATLiens' catalog, but Eligh is perfectly capable of holding the comparison with the Southern legend. Though I will not develop on this more as it would not do justice to Eligh's work to simply compare him to other rappers, his technical abilities make him one of the fastest and most accurate MCs of the planet, a title that could have been hold by Andre 3000 in his time. Eligh's flow is always on point, and at times it becomes truly mind-blowing, notably on the magnificent "Wish I Would", where he speeds up his delivery all the while keeping strong meaning to his words, bringing one of the (multiple) high points of the album.
Meaningful well-thought and poetic lyrics, along with outstanding flows, are certainly central aspects of a great rap record, but it can all crumble if the music in itself is not up to par. Eligh handles the production of every song with the exception of two contributions from fellow Living Legends member Elusive, and UK dubstep producer Starkey, and he does so in a remarkable fashion. Grey Crow
is composed of relaxed and atmospheric beats, held by anything ranging from soothing synths, piano melodies and horns. While being quite varied, the production is also very cohesive, and it truly fulfills its role as a means of travel throughout the landscapes created by Eligh's poetry. The oft-used term "journey" is here very appropriate, and the album's nearly flawless execution, makes the journey truly compelling. The production matches the rapping and the sung choruses to the perfection, the latter creating nice breaks from the masterful rapping of Eligh and the guests present in Grey Crow
These guest rappers are all renowned underground artists, and even though they don't really add anything outstanding to Eligh's tales, they still hold their own next to him and bring a nice feeling to the songs in which they contribute, though not really pushing any boundaries. On the contrary, the singing guests are extremely good additions, and the singers in the choruses, whether it be Marty James in the synth-heavy album closer "Suffocate" or Inspired Flight in the aforementioned "Wish I Would", are top-notch performers. Choruses are as a matter of fact one of the stronger points of the album, as even Eligh can sing some nice, relaxing and heartfelt tunes that can stick in your head for a while.
is Eligh's therapy, a "real" record as Hip-Hop albums are meant to be, an opus anyone and everyone can relate to, and a defining masterpiece of the underground Hip-Hop scene in recent memory.