Idris Goodwin: Break Beat Poems

[15 June 2010]

By Quentin B. Huff

Idris Goodwin’s Break Beat Poems is filled with good intentions. It does so many things right it’s tempting to ignore its shortcomings and give it a perfect rating. The album’s backdrops lean toward classic boom bap, occasionally accentuated by bombastic and dramatic beats that borderline on an industrial flair, and a couple of times flirting with hints of the blues. Lyrically, Goodwin’s voice (he’s like a long lost member of De La Soul), delivery (his sense of rhythm is uncanny), and laidback wordplay are strong—exceptional even. The subject matter ranges from the usual professions of love for hip-hop, to storytelling (“Isiah Thomas Camp”), to the act of rhyming as a political endeavor in and of itself (“No Dogs, No Politics”). Diversity of ideas? No problem. On this album, you’ll hear references to Jay-Z and 50 Cent alongside nods to Del the Funky Homosapien, Oliver Twist, Dennis the Menace, Black Moon, Kafka, and Jeff Chang.

The album’s best songs allow the music to accompany rather than overpower the lyrics, a problem that, regrettably, occurs too often. Goodwin, who comes off as thoughtful and affable, is at home when he relishes his everyman status, as he does on “Used Car”, featuring Serengeti, or when he is immersed in quick-witted word jousting (as on “Non Sequitor”[sic]). Funny without being silly, instructive without being didactic, Break Beat Poems mainly suffers from a few ill-fitting beats.  One example is “Isaiah Thomas Camp”, in which the beat is far too melodramatic for a story about a childhood stint at a basketball camp, and the lyrics fail to support an analogy between athletics and emceeing.

Despite the missteps, Break Beat Poems is a fresh listen, one in which the vocalist on deck claims to slice it and “serve it with a slice of surreal”, and mostly makes good on the promise.  Even though “you can’t pay rent with no good intentions”, Goodwin’s sincerity lends something special to his approach to the trade.  For that, Break Beat Poems is worth listening to. If this album is any indication, Goodwin’s rhyme construction, matched with ample production, will be formidably lush and enjoyable.

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