With Time Capsule, emcees Phoenix Orion and ParanormL join lyrical forces as the Beyonders, much like Phoenix Orion and Canibus did as Cloak-N-Dagga on 2006’s Def Con Zero. The common elements between the two records are: (1) Phoenix Orion’s ability to rock the mic, and (2) the collaborative efforts of the projects, concentrating on a rapping duo while leaving enough room for guests. Time Capsule differs from Def Con Zero in two respects: (1) it’s a concept album of sorts, and (2) the Phoenix-ParanormL combination doesn’t work as well as the Phoenix-Canibus combination. Of the two, the first is far more important, as Time Capsule positions the Beyonders as “futuristic b-boys” on a mission to save hip-hop (“Cyber Christ is Phoenix Orion”, informs the hook of “The Changing”).
It’s not a bad concept, really, recalling the best of hip-hop’s sci-fi models, especially in terms of production, along the lines of Deltron 3030 by Del the Funkee Homosapien, or the RZA’s solo record introducing his Bobby Digital alter-ego. The Beyonders even give us trippy space characters in the cartoon-ish album cover to boot. And it’s kinda cool that, in the midst of these obvious elements of fiction, the record label releasing the album is called “Nonfikshen” (yeah, you got it—nonfiction). Although “time capsules” are generally used to communicate with future generations, the Beyonders are more like Back to the Future-styled time travelers. As you’d expect, Phoenix and ParanormL toss around sci-fi references—my favorite is Phoenix’s line about being a Jedi Knight, but opting to become a Sith Lord to get more applause—but, surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of religious and mystical imagery: Lazarus, the Tree of Life, stigmata marks, the third eye, and the aforementioned Cyber Christ, to name a few. Production by Toby Tones complements these themes, providing the slickest wiggling basslines and wormy sound effects for the occasion.
There’s plenty of room in hip-hop for this kind of quirky, space-age allegory—a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Microphone”, so to speak. All of this—especially with the infusion of the religious and mystical components—could have resulted in high order artistic expression. The problem, in this case and in general, is the usual rant against the “wack MC”, the nameless scapegoat for all of the genre’s ills. Rappers have been battling the “wack MC” from the beginning; I don’t know why the concept is still associated with “originality”. Worse, what seems to happen, as it does with Time Capsule, is that the rappers spend so much time talking about how badly everybody else sucks, they forget to show us why they’re so good. That’s a shame, too, since Phoenix and ParanormL are smart enough and witty enough to construct thoughtful poetry. They’ve got skills.
Nevertheless, they use the first five songs to bash the current market (“The Beyonders”, “Future Intelligence”, “Ahead of Our Time”, “Mission Abort”, and “Systems Meltdown”) before they finally get down to business near the middle of the album. Songs like “Stuck”, “Access Denied”, and “Innovate” (featuring Canibus) stir things up, but even these bursts are unable to reverse the album’s sluggish momentum. The most interesting cut, however, comes at the finish in “Planet X”, an adventure that begins with a lion nursing a thorn in its paw and ends with mass destruction caused by the anger of the gods. “Planet X” would have made a fantastic opener and might have avoided the album’s all-too-familiar refrain that basically says, “We’re better than the sucker MCs, because we keep telling you we’re better than the sucker MCs.”