I was contacted by an old friend, Ewol, to check out some releases by the production company he’s working with, Bridging the Gap Music. Ewol is the founder and one of the emcees of the best hip hop group you’ve probably never heard of, Prophets of Rage (check them out here and see what I’m talking about for yourself). They were (are; there is a new album in the works) an international band founded in Kaiserslautern (K-Town), Germany. POR consisted of three American emcees (Ewol, Yeti, and Styxx), an American DJ (Superjam), and rapped in English… in Germany. To further complicate things, POR also played live (and recorded with, on their 2nd album) an international band: Cave Dave (American) on bass, Sebo (Macedonian) on guitar, and Julian (Bulgarian) on drums, with additional support by a rotating cast of international characters. Those in the know, know just how much POR influenced Deutsche hiphop, and what a travesty it is that Four Music – an imprint of Sony – never exported POR back to the USA. When Ewol and I got back in touch and he said he had some artists he’s promoting, I let him know I’d be glad to check them out. I couldn’t guarantee I’d like them, but I knew Ewol doesn’t deal in wack shit.
STRESS CITY 2
Bio (from kayohes.bandcamp.com):
I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is my blood flowing through these desert streets. Did I grow up here, no I didn’t, I grew up in 6 different countries: Japan, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Cuba. My sound and upbringing are even different than Albuquerque’s.
Kayohes, produced by 83 Sound
featuring Freestyle of The Arsonists, and Kemz83
It’s kinda odd; when I left K-Town, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I guess Kayohes made my same journey backwards, coming from the 505 to Germany where he got connected with BTG83. From what I’ve heard, BTG has a theme of bringing something different to their hip hop. When I lived in Albuquerque, the vast majority of the local rap scene that I heard was very gangsta, very La Raza, very… well, what Kayohes isn’t. From the first track of STRESS CITY 2, Kayohes references skateboarding (“Mercy, mercy, this city tryin’ to hurt me / no banks, no spots, why is this city cursing?”) instead of moving weight. He still tells you about the streets he’s from, but he rises above that average wanna-be gangsta that so much hip-hop aspires to be. He also doesn’t feel the need to have to tell you how much better he is than you, he lets his flows speak for themselves: “What makes an artist hot? What makes an artist flop? I don’t know. All I know is: the mic, I gotta rock.”
I truly believe that the hip-hop emcee is the most prominent poet of our generation, and the vanguard of a vanishing art. Sure, people still write “regular” poetry… heard any lately? Can you name any up and coming poets? Unless you are a contemporary literary buff or professor, or you’re into the poetry slam movement (which owes a lot of its existence to hip-hop in the first place), you probably can’t. Being as I hold the emcee in this all to important position as the last hope for the art of poetry, it literally pisses me off when I hear the shit on the radio and Mtv (do they still play music?) that gets presented to the masses as rap. This is why so many people say that they don’t like or understand hip-hop, that it is just a bunch of noise, or that it isn’t “real music.” When done wrong – and a lot of commercial, popular rap is just that – hip-hop can truly suck, but when done right it is poetry enhanced. It is the merging of two creative arts into one conglomerate that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Kayohes is a poet. He has a laid back, easy flow that sounds like it just effortlessly tumbles out of his mouth onto the beats 83 Sound has fashioned. He can tell stories both autobiographical (“Journey” is amazingly personal) and hypothetical, with incredible ease. His rhyme style is not twisted and super-complicated, his delivery is not machine gun speeds, but what Kayohes does is consistently maintain solid delivery throughout SC2. His subject matter is, more often than not, heavy; whether he is talking about his own life and struggles or about the struggles we go through as humans, Kayohes doesn’t waste a lot of time on posturing and posing on SC2.
83 Sound’s production team kills it with SC2. There is not a single track that I did not enjoy, musically. The production is made up of complex beats with full instrumentation; keys and strings and horns. Horns are a wholly underutilized piece of the production puzzle in hip-hop, and I was glad to hear them featured a bit more prominently on SC2. The horn backbone that “Awake” is built around brings a level of braggadocio directly to the production of the track; not like that guy that talks big and gets his ass kicked, braggadocio like Ali, backed by substance.
Overall, SC2 is a great album. Smooth flows, heavy subject matter, head-rocking beats, and an enlightened emcee add up to a strong entry into the canon of intelligent hip-hop. There are no tracks on SC2 that I would expect your stereotypical, every day rap fan to blast from the subs that take up way-too-much of his trunk. For true hip-hop heads, people that have some understanding of history, sociology, politics, and music theory, or those that really enjoy a “unique” emcee with “ill lyrics” (‘cause Kayohes has ‘em), SC2 has the potential to go down as a new classic album.
Overall 8 / 10
SC2 for sale: http://kayohes.bandcamp.com/
Bio (condensed from Facebook.com/v3rb83):
Born in Bell Flower, California, V3RB knew at a very early age that rapping would be a part in his future. In his native Palmdale, California, he became a regular in the local hip-hop scene but as his crew fell apart; at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States Army. His goal was to somehow take his music over to Europe, since he had always admired the dedication and love they showed towards Hip-Hop. After taking some time off from recording, Verb Kent eventually left the military but decided to stay in Europe to focus on his craft. It was at this time that Verb Kent met fellow Muddy Trenchez members Young Prophet and Max Mostly. His working relationship with Max Mostly, who is also a member of the 83 Sound production team; based out of Kaiserslautern, Germany. Now back living in California, V3RB continues his grind, representing that unique sound of 83 to the fullest.
V3RB, produced by 83 Sound
featuring Microphono, Silmkid3 of The Pharcyde, J-Flexx, Slam, Max Mostley, and Alex Chadwick
V3RB makes a bold statement from the opening seconds of STANDING OVATION by quoting Shakespeare, and that is “this isn’t your average radio hip-hop.” Thank God. As you listen to V3RB’s album, you get more and more examples of just how this isn’t your average bullshit. V3RB raps about his white Honda with “16’s” instead of your average look-how-cool-I-am 24’s+. He tells you about how hard it was growing up in California but listening to and representing the East Coast (Nas, Wu-Tang, etc.), especially during the “Coast War” time period. And the biggest difference? V3RB is a East Coast styled emcee from Cali being represented and produced through BTG83, a German hip-hop company. Worldwide in one CD.
One of the things that hit me quickly in listening to SO was the maturity in V3RB’s raps. He’s a young man, under 30, but drops names like EPMD (ok, they ARE hip-hop legends, so not such a surprise, but you don’t hear about them too much anymore), JOHNNY MNEMONIC, and Dick Butkus! It’s not just the maturity in the references he brings to the table that caught my attention, but also the maturity in the subject matter (sure, there’s some swagger, but there’s also a lot of important stuff being talked about here), as well as just the ease of his flow. V3RB has a liquid fluidity to his lyrical delivery that usually develops from years and years of rhyming, or sheer talent, and my guess would say that V3RB has a heavy dose of both. Not every track has that slickness to it, but overall it moves much easier than I would expect for an emcee with so few releases to his name.
The production provided by 83 Sound is definitely more hits than misses. There’s a few tracks I couldn’t get too much into (“Shaking Up the Block,” “Laid Back,” and to a lesser extent “Flow Major”), but the vast majority of the production will easily cause heads to shake. A lot of the music has a classic could sound to it: guitars, piano, drums, bass, some vocal samples, some strings, some extra bits here and there. I love that. When I hear someone bumping some rap that is nothing but a deep sub-bass line, some quickly thrown together beats, and a semi-talented-at-best “emcee” (I have to qualify that because I won’t put a lot of rappers in the same category with what I would consider a true emcee) dropping some bullshit about bitches and ho’s, it makes me sad as a fan of true hip-hop… but I’m not going to go on that rant again. I will just say this: SO is true hip-hop.
The shining star on SO has to be “I Love U” which features Slimkid3 of The Pharcyde, one of the earlier innovators of the more intelligent hip-hop movement in the early 1990’s. The production for this track is just amazingly spot-on, the flow from V3RB is superb, and overall this track just implores “make me a single!” V3RB spits: “What’s evident? My testament. / My script filthy rich with gems. / I need a hit ‘cause I’m hooked on this rhyme shit.” My vote says this track could be that hit.
V3RB throws down fun refernces here and there, but none as plainly evident as the video-game tribute (at least musically), “Tiger.” I’m not going to name names, but to anyone who has played video games in the last 20 years the samples that have been built into this beat should be obvious. As a kid that has been in possession of a console since I scored a NES in the 2nd grade, I appreciate and enjoy a track built around a video game sample or two, but I have a bit of an issue with “Tiger,” and that is: it’s just TOO obvious. Sure, it’s nice to hear that reference, but it’s nothing that will make the dual hip-hop head / video game geek smile to themselves because they just got an inside joke that no one else in the room even realized had been cracked. That’s what I love about POR’s “Kawng;” it is that super-subtle video game reference that the most hardened gamer geek would struggle to put their finger on, but the ones that do catch it, love it.
Overall, I really enjoyed SO. It is a mature, intelligent, introspective album without too much time wasted on fluff. SO features strong production overall, with a few outstanding tracks rising above the rest. I truly look forward to hearing how V3RB continues to grow and evolve as an emcee. I know he’s not looking for fame, but if some of these tracks could get a little backing behind them, I think fame may come looking for V3RB.
Overall 7 / 10
SO for sale: http://v3rb.bandcamp.com/