Review Summary: Alan Maman has a delight twisting American hip-hop's leg.
Many have postulated on the origins of Russian Roulette
, and each opinion seems equally valid. It’s no secret that choosing Russian jazz improvisation to back underground hip-hop lyricists is an anti-commercial ploy, especially when the album at hand consists of 30 tracks that clock in around 45 minutes. What led to this enigma of an album? Well, some believe that Russian Roulette
is a political statement that calls America - and its seemingly unfounded suspicions of the Russian people back in the day - into question. This would make sense because of the light-hearted Russian instrumentals utilized in the album, a collection of musical highlights cultivated to go alongside America’s underbelly so naturally. However, while the thought of Russian Roulette
being so meaningful is a pleasant enough idea, it doesn’t seem likely; it’s far more plausible that Alan Maman carried one of his interests over into his most recent work, and in turn developed an interesting spin on hip-hop that carries a strong sense of novelty. Regardless of the angle from which this album was conceived, though, there’s no doubt that it’s effective in every way.
One thing to note about the album is its equal emphasis between producer and performer. The Alchemist chooses his samples wisely; it’s easy enough to imagine him perusing through old Russian vinyls, looking for that one
passage that compliments the rest, but his success lies in cultivating something that works passively when needed. Sure, the upbeat inspiration of “Ivan’s Workout Plan” is as off-kilter as a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, but it’s only to prepare for the menacing “The Turning Point”, a track which couldn’t have a more accurate title. It all flows much better than expected, a delightful surprise for such an oddball album.
“The world is mine / that’s how I feel inside,” Big Twinz spits in one of the biggest tracks we have here, “Moon Probe.” It’s a notable lyric because of how true it is - and it’s this self-assured bravado that defines the guest roles on Russian Roulette
. After all, the engaging production at work throughout simply wouldn’t shine as much if it weren’t for the accompanying lyrics to paint a more vivid picture. eXquire’s narrative of a sexual fantasy gone awry in “The Explanation” makes the track’s sinister beat only more dangerous, its anxious pulse defining the album’s conclusion. From these moments it’s easier to see the album’s intended format: a blur of hazy jazz instrumentals and electric guitar licks engulfed in smoke, a makeshift curtain only opening to emphasize the guest stars’ bold additions. These moments are the pinnacles of Russian Roulette
, and showcase the Alchemist’s production choices at their prime.
It’d be silly to deny that Russian Roulette
is a gamble, and at first the project doesn’t give off an impression of being incredibly focused. With time, though, the pieces of the puzzle begin to find each other. For instance, it seems ludicrous to have eight tracks close out the album, each being centered around “The Kosmos”, but in context one would never think to question the songs’ existence. Part 7 wouldn’t be so lurching if it it weren’t for the strings in Part 6, the ones that wear importance on their sleeves as they mutate into something terrifying and beautiful. It’s all like a bad dream, one that keeps you up while keeping you entranced in its origins.