Five years after dropping his solid LP debut, Balance, Akrobatik is back with a vengeance on Absolute Value. It’s not like the Boston rapper has been on a hiatus since 2003, though. Besides his role as one-third of the Perceptionists, Ak kept himself busy by touring nearly non-stop. He also landed a spot on JAM’N 94.5’s Morning Show, where he delivers a “Sports Rap-Up” freestyle that covers national and local sports.
Yet, in between his many gigs, Ak found the time to record the much anticipated Absolute Value. Also, he was able to round up an impressive array of guests, proving the man knows how to network. From Freddie Foxxx to Talib Kweli to Hezekiah, this album does not fall short on collaborations. Fortunately for Ak, however, he is not outshined by his talented cohorts. His aggressive, but not grating, delivery ensures that your ear doesn’t lose him for a second. The same goes for the production side of the album. The beats, although varied, blend smoothly from song to song, to form a cohesive record.
The host and his guests shine over the 14 tracks whether they are spitting bravado or knowledge. On Absolute Value‘s first single, “Put Ya Stamp on It”, Kweli and Ak flex their rhyming muscles over the late J Dilla’s stuttering strings. The same goes for “Black Hell Breaks Loose”. It’s a braggadocio-banger from start to finish that features Willie Evans Jr. and Therapy, who provided vocals and scratches while producing the track. “Step It Up” is equally impressive, thanks to Hezekiah’s head-nodding beat and organ sample.
Then, there is “Beast Mode”. Although it’s on the poppier side, the song could very well be teasing another Perceptionists album. As one might expect, Mr. Lif and Ak split rapping duties while Fakts One provides the beat, which flirts with the Neptunes’s style of simplicity. This track proves that we are in need of a follow-up to Black Dialogue.
On the other end of the lyrical spectrum are tracks like “Rain” and “Kindred”. Illmind’s somber beat suits “Rain”‘s mood perfectly as Ak discusses topics like poverty and violence. “Kindred”, also an Illmind production, features spoken verses by Chuck D on the plight and unity of African-Americans through tragedies including Hurricane Katrina. While the subject matter is nothing new, Ak keeps it fresh by not pigeonholing himself with clichés.
The album only misses a step on two tracks that aren’t necessarily bad, but they do little to entice the listener. “Be Prepared” is surprisingly average, and even an appearance by Little Brother cannot save the song from mediocrity. Also falling flat is “Soul Glo”, mostly due to Da Beatminerz’s production. But you have to love the Coming to America reference.
As a whole, this album is a strong representation of Ak’s versatility as an emcee. He rhymes with passion and tenacity whether the song is about women, the Bush regime, or partying. But, as many of his fans can attest, the most satisfying element of Absolute Value is in knowing that Ak will take the songs to another level in concert. His ability to sound studio-perfect while engaging the whole crowd is impressive at a time when most rappers are lazy and rely too heavily on hype men. Even the most reserved fans find themselves throwing their hands up and rapping along at Ak’s shows. In case you haven’t seen him live, consider this your invitation. Just make sure you’re ready for a work out.