[30 July 2009]
Albums by producer-rappers always come with a slight air of caution. Sure, the likes of Large Professor and Kanye West have proven you can be equally talented both in the booth and behind the boards. But, particularly in the case of Mr. West, you can tell when one takes a backseat for the other—see Graduation‘s sometimes recycled rhymes, though that was technically more of a pop album anyway. Then you have cats like Madlib, who is obviously a superbly talented producer. When he decides to spit over a track, though, well, we all know what happened to “The Red” on Jaylib’s Champion Sound, Madlib’s fantastic collaborative record with J Dilla.
Luckily for this particular rapper-producer, and for hip-hop heads alike, the latter is not the case for Philadelphia-based Lushlife, who has delivered with his sophomore effort, Cassette City. And although there are some glaring problems that drag down the overall effort, the album is solid enough to make it a worthwhile listen, especially through the first eight of the overall 13 tracks.
In particular, the way “Innocence”, which kicks off Cassette City with what sounds like a funeral dirge, bursts into “Daylight Into Me” is, without question, a work of genius. And it displays some of Lushlife’s finest sample-chopping, a skill akin to Dilla. Lush’s flipping and, dare I say, mangling of the horns sample on “Daylight Into Me” blends perfectly with the vibrant drums. But, more importantly, the track showcases his more fiery and updated flow, which has been refined since his topnotch debut Order of Operations. While it’s a stretch to say you’ll be reaching for the rewind button, the way his flow complements his beats is a testament to his skills .
And the intensity felt across the first two tracks continues through highlights like “The Kindness”, which shows Lush’s versatility on what plays like a dedication to Houston’s chopping and screwing, and “Another Word for Paradise”, a certified banger featuring more horn stabs and slick guest verses from Camp Lo. The only downside to “Another Word for Paradise” comes near the end, when the beat changes and you’re left craving a verse over the new soundscape. Instead, the beat goes back to the horns and it ends within a minute. But, to be fair, that’s nitpicking at its finest. Equally impressive tracks include the melancholy-turned-sparkling “Until the Sun Dies” and “The Songbird Athletic”, the latter of which is driven by erratic post-hook percussion and finger-picked guitars.
Those aforementioned issues plaguing Cassette City appear toward the end, when the record’s pace begins to stumble, even though the uplifting “The Fall of the Light Brigade” nearly saves it. Lushlife’s Dilla-esque chopped-up beats start to blend together—like on “In Soft Focus” and “Innocence Reprise”—and evoke a sameness that inhibits the tracks from standing out. It’s true that that same quality also lends itself to creating a cohesive feel. What it does, though, is remove the sense of cohesion that already existed. Rather than build and progress on the style he was flaunting across the album’s stellar first two-thirds, Lush regresses to a lacking, all-too-familiar vibe. And his work on the mic still needs some fine-tuning. Although he has vastly improved, Lush doesn’t exactly spit narratives you will want to commit to memory. Also, don’t expect to hear a punchline or simile worthy of repeating. But, like other rapper-producer records, it’s more than likely that his beats, and not his rhymes, will stick with you. And on Lushlife’s fine second record, that’s exactly what happens.