Long Beach, California MC Sareem Poems made a name for himself as part of the L.A. Symphony collective with like-minded, positive hip-hop cats such as Pigeon John and Flynn Adams. Like his cohorts, Poems branched out and went solo in 2002 with Left. Then known as Sharlok Poems, he continued working with the Symphony while maintaining a solo career that blossomed into 2009’s Black & Read All Over, which was re-released as a deluxe edition with remixes and instrumentals. It’s a record that succeeds because neither Poems nor his producers, Theory Hazit and Oddisee, overextend themselves. They remain in a comfort zone that fortunately also doesn’t pigeonhole the overall sound.
Although some listeners will be annoyed by his hints of preaching, Poems’ positive outlook isn’t overbearing. He’s just an MC who “sees the world through different eyes,” as Georgia Anne Muldrow sings on the hook for “See It”, an album highlight. It’s also delivered with a fine cadence and distinctive voice, which ensure that you’re listening to more than the mostly fantastic production. Oddisee only crafted two cuts here, the piano-laced banger “Tell It” and the smooth and soulful “She So So”, and they are two of Black & Read’s best. Hazit also deserves credit, as he provides a variety of sounds including galactic funk (“Impossible”) and guitar-driven boom-bap (“Windows to the Soul”). These strengths are what that make the album’s somewhat glaring mistakes, such as the awkward “Shake It Up” and middling second-third, easy to overlook.