On Free Kamal‘s opening track, rapper Radioinactive calls for his listeners to “have no genre.” Throughout the album, he and producer Antimc follow that advice. Their songs all fit into the loose association of hip hop music, but the artists don’t stick to one sound throughout. Antimc mixes samples and live tracks for beats that fit the backpack tradition, but draw on everything from old-school rap to reggae to jazz. Radioinactive stays more straightforward with his rhymes, but he does vary his flow enough to stay interesting.
One thing that remains consistent throughout the album is the duo’s theme of neo-transcendentalism. Henry David Thoreau would be proud of these guys, at least on the surface. On “With Light Within”, Radioinactive spits out almost New Age-y rhymes about simplifying life and appreciating the little things: “Be thankful / And live in the moment / And enjoy life / And breathe more.” Antimc’s production on this track is tight, but the lyrics suffer a little from their banality. The second track, “Chop Chop” advances the idea of living deliberately with a little more wit, asking us to avoid PCs, MTV, HIV, SUV, STDs, “any cd by Master P”, and credit cards (for the second time in two songs).
It might not be Thoreauvian to release these messages on high-tech CDs, Radioinactive and Antimc at least have their hearts in the right place. They continue to expound their anti-capitalist, anti-materialist view on “The Physics of My Success”, a parody of an instant-success infomercial. The “Physics of Success” hotline can teach you how to get rich, lose weight, and improve your grades, and attract “rich women with perfectly-shaped commercials”. The lyrics are humorous, but—as with Kanye West’s “The New Workout Plan”—some of the best moments come during the spoken breaks, such as when the millionaire-to-be has to thank his mom for lending him her car.
Throughout this frequently smart, occasionally dull barrage of underground poetry, Radioinactive delivers his lines with personality, although not always successfully. At his best, Radioinactive is fast enough to be one of the few people that could almost keep up with Twista. Unfortunately, Radioinactive doesn’t flow as well; his rhymes are choppier. He’s an undie rapper, not a club banger, and that’s not inherently a flaw. The problem arises when his verses become too singsong-y. Radioinactive has the verbal dexterity to carry a track, but he doesn’t always show a full enough sense of style to do so.
Antimc also shows moments of great skill without sustaining it for the whole album. “With Light Within” reveals his willingness to take risks, as he’s assembled a freaky funk backing track with a space guitar. Radioinactive keeps the delivery slow here, enough so that I keep expecting a Gil Scott-Heron moment that never quite comes. The duo sounds tight on this number, as they do throughout Free Kamal (it’s apparent that they’ve worked together before), but the song doesn’t quite work. Novel, yes; successful, no. Still, it’s a promising start, and Antimc mostly delivers.
On various tracks he dabbles in world music. “First World Justice System” relies on a heavy reggae feel. It’s a good song to use this style on, as Radioinactive drops resistance lines like “Give my regards to the hawks in office driving their Mark of the Beast mobiles with their briefcases full of ulterior motives handcuffed to their android wrists” (which is only partially what the MC fits into one line). This track precedes “The Weight of Secrets”, which Antimc builds around Middle Eastern drumming and chanting to match the story of “Yogic purification” and “an initiation within the great pyramid of Giza”. These two songs match their lyrics well to the music, but the use of Indian woodwinds on “Magnets” sound superfluous. The lyrics are no more Eastern than anywhere else, relying more on a contemporary New Age message, so the music comes across as an attempt to impose an aura of ancient wisdom on a somewhat dull track that contains lines like “Eliminate / Those who descriminate [sic].”
Despite the stumbling opening of “With Light Within” and the weak closing of “Magnets”, Radioinactive and Antimc perform well together. They usually match clever lyrics to interesting beats, and their missteps are a somewhat natural part of taking creative chances. On their next collaboration, they’d do themselves justice not so much by changing their approach, but by figuring out what tracks to drop.
// Notes from the Road
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