Ask Moka, he’ll tell ya. This is the album he “wanted” to make, at least, it was once it became obvious that the commercial route defined by last year’s Desired Effect was far from a success. Understandably then, Vermilion (something like the umpteenth Only album) is just about the polar opposite of Desired Effect, stocked to the brim with gritty beats and rhymes that hew close to the street image he’s been conveying for years now. Most recognizable as a one-time member of Swollen Members, he actually does just fine on his own, alternately bitter and at peace, passive and aggressive. “I could give a fuck about money,” he offers on the J. Dilla-sampling “I Could Give a…”, addressing the experience of making what was supposed to be a commercial breakthrough, though he turns around and gives us an ode to the beach on “So Kona”...which happens to be the very next track. Despite the ever-changing subject matter, Vermilion maintains a consistent sound throughout, and while Moka may not be the flashiest or most charismatic rapper around, he’s always on beat and his rhymes are always tight. None of this is even to mention that it’s hard not to have a soft spot for a guy who’ll cover Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels” (almost to the note!) for the sake of his bonus track. Vermilion may never even have an outside shot at the sort of commercial success that Desired Effect was supposed to bring, but it brings Moka Only back to what he’s good at. That’s a net gain if ever there was one.
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