Alias is an incredibly entrancing artist. Handling every aspect of his music, he has made himself arguably the most popular single member of the ANTICON hip hop collective (and the only one to consistently put out good material), a feat in and of itself, considering his other label-mates. Over the years, he has gone from one of the most introspective MC’s in the game to a trip hop producer, rarely contributing much substantive lyrical content to his work. The pinnacle of his work, The Other side of the Looking Glass
, came as these two periods were at their respective ends and beginnings. Thus, it combines Alias’s incredible lyrical ability and sublime flow, with his electronic/trip hop influenced production chops, all slapped together into a crushingly beautiful collection of songs.
The most immediate impact Alias should have on you is his delivery. Unlike many other MC’s who seem to be on a one-track speed throughout any particular verse, Alias constantly shifts the tempo of his rapping, and in conjunction with the way he melds every word together, it can be difficult to keep up with at times. However, it’s still one of the most breathtaking performances I’ve ever heard by an MC on any album, as he pours emotion after emotion into each and every performance, being at times truly sympathetic, at times bitter, sarcastic and entirely unlikable, and yet at others he sounds like the common man, relatable almost to a fault.
What helps all of this is the lyrical content of Alias’s songs. He is far on the side of being a pensive writer; he rarely talks about true material things, but rather on concepts and daily occurrences that he believes are commonly overlooked. Jovial Costume
, the moment where the album first truly kicks into gear, is a simple song about human interaction on the surface. However, he also adds in the feeling of despair that we so often feel; that one day where you are, inexplicably, “feeling down in the dumps.” It’s an honest take on the human psyche when interacting with other people, and it’s that kind of thinking that Alias expresses on nearly every song on the album.
Alias tries to expound on all of our hopes, dreams, and fears on the album, exploring the cold feeling of loneliness on Black Tea
, a song more akin to a Nine Inch Nails song than a true hip hop production. It’s that keen sense of how to set the atmosphere of his songs that makes each song so singularly beautiful, though, as tracks like Angel of Solitude
, with the sampled pianos ad incredibly heavy bass, accompanies Alias’s gut-wrenching delivery and lyrics (on regrets, both in the present and the future) perfectly. Even when Alias really does abandon heavy issues and opts for talking about, essentially, doing what you want on Pill hiding
, his blazing and ace rhyming skills hole it all together well, making no topic a wasteful point to Alias.
Of course, the strangest aspect of the album is Alias’s production. He really can’t seem to commit to either hip hop or trip hop values, so instead he goes for a strange blend of both; adding trip hop atmospherics into the bouncy and sometimes dark hip hop beats he employs. The level of his work is astounding; the bass on the album is incredibly thick and full sounding, but it never seems to overpower you or the rest of the beat. IT perfectly accents the continuous feeling of depression, but it also contributes to another concept of the album, the wearing of a “jovial mask.”
While the bass may be dark at times, it’s still upbeat at its core. The strange samples Alias uses bring in alien aesthetics to his work; Getting By (Part 2)
incorporates a Chinese string section, for the sole reason of building the epic and strange tone the song contains. Scattered throughout the album are traditional string arrangements, bongos, wind instruments (primarily a recurring flute theme), and then on Slow Motion People
, Alias draws out nearly every sound except that of the snare, which is seemingly there only to accentuate that fact. Yet again, it’s an example of the music fitting completely with the lyrical work, as throughout the album another theme is how Alias continually feels he is moving too fast for those around him.
The album, in a word, is brilliant. It seems shorter than its 54-minute length upon a listen, but seems so much longer when you begin reflecting on it. It’s one of the most profoundly deep and wonderful hip hop albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. There are very few albums that even attempt to reach for it’s level of originality, and the only albums you can really compare to it are Alias’s other works. It’s astounding in nearly every aspect; it’s almost surprising that one man could hold all this talent. While he would begin to fall down the tunnel he built here on later works, and become so pretentious he couldn’t even keep halfway up with his ideas. Here, however, he strikes the perfect balance between his idealism and his actual ability, and it’s no small surprise that I believe this to be one of the most important hip hop albums of the past decade.