Review Summary: ...a thousand ways to say nothing...
Jesus, this album is great.
Released in 2000 under the iconic Anticon label, Bottle of Humans was the debut of the label’s co-founder Sole. Bottle of Humans comes after a somewhat tumultuous period in the life of Sole (aka Tim Holland), having to bounce back from the legendary “Linda Tripp” diss by El-P, but also after the release of the excellent Deep Puddle Dynamics debut. With a veritable army of producers, including Controller 7, Matth, Alias, Odd Nosdam, Jel, Sixtoo, Moodswing9, and Panic, he would release one of the best underground rap records ever.
Sole’s verbose lyrics and unconventional flow don’t exactly cater to the average hip hop cadence. He’s not the type to use simple rhyme couplets (he does, but they usually are expelled in favor of a stream-of-consciousness style). But Sole just happens to be so poetic with the subject matter of his songs. Even if he sounds pretentious at times, Sole is extremely captivating:
“What the f**k you gonna do to me / I’ve had my ass kicked so many times
My spine is aligned / With the ability to only exist within my own sandcastle point in time
Get it? Shallow threats and knives can’t kill me
I am the ideal of soul / The idea of being my own idol
A superman superseding superficial people
-Sole, “Dismantling of Sole’s Ego”
A major factor playing a role in this is the stellar production throughout the album. Alias creates an emotional beat with powerful strings and a sampled chorus from Morgana King’s “A Song for You” on “Bottle of Humans”. Every song has an atmosphere and mood to it, coupling perfectly with Sole’s lyrics. Sometimes, the rhymes don’t leave room for the instrumentals to shine (“Nothing Fell Apart”, “Understanding”). For the most part, however, they accompany the vocals in absolute harmony.
Concerning the actual songs, I could only skip through “Very Important Message”, as it seemed rather unnecessary. “Our Big Dirty Secret”, with Doseone and Alias alongside Sole and the Pedestrian, discusses and satirizes biting in hip hop. It also has the distinction of being one of the heaviest rap-rock tracks on this album. Amazingly, every song holds its own, with only “Home” being less alluring over time (as Sole’s lyrics are occasionally drowned by the banging cymbals and guitar riffs).
Personally, there is one song that stands above the rest- “Save the Children”. Panic and Moodswing9 bring a dark boom bap instrumental to the track, as well as samples from “Echoes in the Dark” by Uriah Heep. This is easily the darkest song of the album, describing abortion in the perspective of the lowly fetus being terminated. Everything, from the choral chants of “And I’ve seen so far into the night/and lingered in the land of no light” to the sickeningly depressing imagery of Sole’s lyrics, simultaneously frighten and captivate me. A must listen for everyone.
Wow. Bottle of Humans almost leaves me speechless every time. Only minor flaws hold it back from a prefect 5. It is a massive shame that this LP is forgotten by many, as it trumps even great alternative hip hop albums of recent day. A fitting debut for one of underground rap’s intrepid pioneers.