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Braille

The IV Edition

(Syntax; US: 15 Apr 2008; UK: Available as import)

It’s not easy being a positive rapper like Braille. Most emcees flaunt their jewelry, their women, and their street credibility. And while the Portland, Oregon, native isn’t afraid to let loose some battle raps, Braille mostly sticks to storytelling and granting the listener access to his brain. Then, he is also associated with the dreaded c-word; no, not that c-word. He’s a Christian who drips his spirituality here and there into his music.


And, unfortunately for Braille, having your religion tacked onto your art is going to turn away a fair amount of people; I’m guilty of feeling that way myself. So for that reason, let it be known right here that his beliefs might influence his lyrics, but it’s never obnoxious or distracting. If anything, it just adds another layer to his ability to turn his songs into short stories over some of the best beats heard so far this year.


The Lightheaded member, with whom he put out three albums, is now onto his fourth solo effort, The IV Edition. Other than standing for the obvious roman numerals, the title represents three of Braille’s goals: to intravenously distribute musical medicine, to become an “international vision” of what’s transpiring the world over, and to reach fans across the globe as an “international version”. Perhaps it’s those specific objectives that have made this album so varied in subject matter while maintaining a cohesive feel.


Braille succeeds on the mic whether he is honoring his wife on “Main Squeeze” or talking his shit on “Counter Attack”, though it’s a more peaceful battle rap than you’re used to. Other solid lyrical efforts include the dreamy, aptly titled “Restless”, in which he tosses and turns over the old sentiment of “so much to do but so little time”. Even his one truly preachy track, “The Cure”, stands out, if only because he lays it all out there. And although some might disagree, you have to give Braille credit for being so open in his music.


His lyrical effort on “Many Stories”, however, is by far his strongest. It’s a straightforward tribute to his father that is both touching and soulful, with thanks in part to Barry Hampton’s guest vocals and production. The song takes you to the hospital room where Braille watched his father’s last moments, and you can feel yourself grieving right alongside him.


Although he’s gifted both in his rapping and songwriting, Braille is still overshadowed by The IV Edition‘s outstanding beats. His gripping flow is paired with bangers from the likes of The ARE, OhNo, Marco Polo, K-Murdock of Panacea, and, most notably, Kno of the CunninLynguists. And even though the list is obviously varied, the album never feels like a collection of random tracks. “Counter Attack” bumps and rushes with its jungle drums and driving strings sample, all blended beautifully by OhNo. The same goes for Kno’s epic, scrambling piano loop and perfect cocktail of samples on “Get It Right”. Fulfilling his international ambition, Braille also enlisted producers like Staffro and Mr. Mar, whose DJ Premier impression on “Double Dose” is magnificent.


It goes without saying that the emcee, especially on a solo album, should never fade into the background. It’s for that reason why some artists opt for instrumental tracks, allowing the producer to dazzle the listener without interruption. On The IV Edition, however, that is not the case. And for all the deserved praise Braille receives as a rapper, he still has some shortcomings, such as trying too hard on “Double Dose” and “Mental Guards (Snitch Blade)” or sounding generic on “Raise the Dead”.


There’s no question that Braille is a beast on the mic. His voice is extremely coherent, allowing you to not miss a word of his tale, and his flow is ferocious. But he tends to stretch himself too thin. Had this album been cut down from 17 to 13 tracks, it’s very likely that these critiques would lack substance. The album wouldn’t be perfect, but it would wash itself clean of some of the weaker links that tarnish an otherwise fine record.

Rating:

Weekly newspaper reporter by day, music reviewer by night (OK, and by day, too). When he's not writing for PopMatters, Andrew spends most of his time at online magazine Prefix and hip-hop site Potholes In My Blog.


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