Back-to-basics outing shows both high points and limitations.
Gel Roc (pronounced with a hard g like "gulp," not soft like "jelly") is an LA-based emcee who's been around for a while. He released four albums as part of the outfit EX2, and his solo debut Laws & Flaws dropped in 2006. The Void followed in 2010, and 2011 sees his third solo full-length, Beautiful Tragedy. At its best, Beautiful Tragedy brings the basics of hip-hop to compelling life. The beats are wicked at times and the verbal grooves relentless, as on "Buzzin Cousins" and the stomping "Beautiful Tragedy." On the equally hypnotic "Autodidactic", Gel lays down a lightning-quick patter above a thumping bassline—the very essence of old-school hip-hop: beats and rhymes uncluttered with extraneous samples and sounds. That said, "Beat of the Drum" does incorporate some unexpected sounds to keep things interesting. (Is that a foghorn?). Most of these high points occur early on, though. As the record rolls along, the limitations of Gel's approach become apparent, and—as your mom might say—everything starts sounding the same. "Empty Hellows" struggles to overcome a dully repetitive beat, while "Epilepsy" suffers the same fate, only worse. At 16 tracks, Beautiful Tragedy could have been tightened up a bit. A 12-track or even 10-track album would have been far more compelling.