Rakaa Iriscience Rakaa IriscienceCrown Of Thorns
It’s revealing that the solo debuts of Evidence and Rakaa Iriscience have seriously improved the recent output by Dilated Peoples –I’m thinking mostly of “20/20” and “The Release Party”, the two last official releases by the band which in both performers reside in alongside DJ Babu. The recent European tour of the Californian combo confirms that the three still get along well, but hearing them separately it also becomes clear that the band needed a break and that all needed to explore other territories outside of the group. Without ever descending into the inferno of mediocrity or nonsense but with clear signs of repetition and stagnation, their latest efforts showed creative and even personal tiredness, which translated in a clear loss of relevance and impact on their own territory, that of the orthodox, 90’s-inspired underground. The erosion was, albeit temporarily, stopped by the lush and ambitious “Weatherman LP”, the album by Evidence, an underestimated exercise of change and maturity by the MC and producer, which held at least seven memorable hymns and which unfortunately went by unnoticed in the hip-hop scene, paying more attention as it was to other jobs and formulas than to the rise of the Angeleno as beatmaker. Not only did the album contain a fascinating sound, Evidence’s lyrics also showed us a rapper who was hurt, in the middle of an existential drama, writing what are probably his best lyrics to date. And now we’re not going to kid ourselves: “Crown Of Thorns”, opera prima of Rakaa Iriscience, which took him a couple of years working in the studio, is bound to go down the same (rocky) road as his friend and partner. The conglomerate of fat beats, minimalist loops and spirited, socially conscious rhymes delivered by Rakaa isn’t fashionable in today’s hip-hop, I would even go as far as saying not even on the indie hip-hop scene, which is keeping more of an eye on the street crudity of Roc Marciano, the personality of Fashawn or the post-Dillism of Black Milk.
The militant classicism of “Crown Of Thorns” is impeccable, although I personally believe that it’s a bit bleak compared to “Weatherman LP”, which was a more consistent, inspired and resounding. The problem with Rakaa Iriscience’s debut is that it’s name and surname and is totally clear. For starters it’s once again obvious that DJ Babu is not a brilliant producer and that the MPC is not really his thing. His two tracks are a hundred percent disposable. Add to that the somewhat ridiculous “Mezcal”, a nod to his Mexican fans, I suppose, and the unnecessary “Rosetta Stone Groove (Universal Language)”, and we have the reasons the album doesn’t reach a much higher note. There is an explicit difference in quality between the highlights of the album – “Delilah”, “Aces High”, “Crown Of Thorns” and “Mean Streak”, four hymns that justify the purchase of the record– and the low points mentioned before. Maybe that feeling of imbalance, of a record that starts high, suffers a couple of minutes of disconnection and goes back up again towards the end, is emphasised when you imagine the amount of work that must have gone in the making of the material. When you gather people like The Alchemist, Exile, El-P, Illmind, Evidence, Oh No and Sid Roams for one and the same project, you can only aim for excellence. Hence the feeling of slight deception one gets upon hearing the result.
When comparing this album with Evidence’s debut, the lyrical content is also inferior. Historically, the hip-hop critics have always overestimated the concept of the conscious rapper, taking it for granted that a lyric with a message is always worth more than others more frivolous and trivial. But rap history is full of very gifted MCs who didn’t deliver any message in their rhymes, just a tribute to the language itself: Biggie, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Scarface or early Nas were street poets capable of turning a routine story about a day selling crack in the hood into an exploit of vocabulary, rhythm and evocative skill. Rakaa Iriscience is a good and more than correct rapper, but when he starts getting into somewhat political and ideological themes he really loses power, because his discourse turns stereotypical, predictable and a bit naive. In that sense, Evidence has always been more introspective and tormented, which has had a positive impact on his evolution as a lyricist and over the years has made him stand out within Dilated Peoples.Does “Crown Of Thorns” contribute something to today’s hip-hop, then? Well, yes. Without going much further, four or five supreme songs, a great single ( “Delilah” is excellent, it has to be said) and, in general, a consistent sound true to what could be expected from its author. But it also delivers a little bit more substance, body and specific weight to the always trustworthy Californian underground scene, which has been a bit spiritless and graceless lately, and a new title to add to the crop of correct appetising records for the retro fan, who will see his or her investment rewarded with absolute certainty. Those looking for revolutions, changes of routes, solemnity or projection beyond the purist fervour will have to ask for Big Boi, The Roots or Kid Cudi. To each his own.
David Broc Rakaa - Deliah (Prod Evidence) (2010)