Legendary west coast native Planet Asia has done his fair share of collaborations over the course of his impressive 15 year career. Not only has he worked with nearly every prominent rapper in the underground hip hop scene, but he’s also managed to secure fully produced albums by the likes of Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, Evidence of Dilated Peoples fame, and the ever popular Madvillainy producer, Madlib. It’s true that some of these projects haven’t turned out as good as fans might have hoped — the Evidence produced LP, The Medicine, was received poorly by fans and critics alike — but for the most part, Asia has put together a very impressive body of work in the one MC/one producer category.
I can’t say that I was overly familiar with Gensu Dean before delving in to this project, but being a long-time Planet Asia fan, I knew he could bring out the best in even the most obscure producer (see 2011s criminally underrated digital only release, Camouflage Jackets, produced by the mostly unknown G_Force). Thankfully he does just that with Gensu, who’s Soul and Funk infused production could best be described as Madlib meets Pete Rock. And while Gensu never truly reaches the highs that either of those artists offer at their best, he does provide Asia with a suitable backdrop to flex his impressive lyrical talents over (suitable being the key word here). Gensu isn’t anywhere near the most adventurous producer out there, and many times I was simply waiting to hear what about him was special enough to warrant a full project with an MC of Asia’s quality. He’s good at what he does, there’s no denying that, but he does very little to separate himself from the pack.
It’s only when Gensu deviates from the standard hip hop formula and finds his own unique sound that the album truly sounds inspired. “Time To Get Dough” features some unique samples that sound as if they were pulled straight from a video game or an old Japanese monster flick. It’s equally refreshing and unique, and really helps spice up what would be an otherwise boring posse cut that features a somewhat limp performance from Twin Gambino. Likewise, “Aura” takes an old school 80s Hip Hop break and turns it on its head by adding in, among other things, the sounds of chirping birds and running water. It may not be the most technically impressive beat, but old school hip hop fans are sure to appreciate it all the same. Sadly over the course of 17 tracks many of these beats start to have a “been there, done that” feel to them, and the overall lack of forward thinking and innovation can be slightly disheartening.
Planet Asia is the true star of the album though, and he’s going to be the main reason people revisit this project. It’s hard to say he sounds inspired, if only because he’s proven himself to be a ridiculously consistent MC over the course of his career and has never really hit a point where he didn’t sound inspired, but there’s still a sharpness to his wit and writing that’s sure to impress anybody who takes the time to fully digest his lyrics. Throughout the album’s hour long running time he never once disappoints, and in fact his performance is the only thing that saves some of Gensu’s lesser beats from being skipped over completely. “Chuck Berry” comes to mind as it features a throw-away beat driven by an annoying guitar sample, but hearing Asia effortlessly rap lines like “Lightening strikes when I write shit/ Vultures flock, jock and bite this” makes the song a worthwhile listen.
Not surprisingly, the guest features almost always fail to live up to the high bar set by Planet Asia, and while hearing him share the mic with bigger names like David Banner and Tragedy Khadafi on “Thyself” offers an excellent surprise and easily proves to be the album’s highlight, more often than not you just wish the time had been used for more Asia verses. Couple the weak guest appearances with production that mostly fails to make itself truly stand out and you have yourself a few potholes in an otherwise smooth record. None of this is a deal breaker of course, and the album as a whole is sure to please the die hard Planet Asia fans out there, but at the same time, the minor annoyances make the album good instead of great. A little refinement and innovation would have gone a long way, but it’s hard to knock a record that knows who its fans are and exactly how to please them, even if it does come at the cost of being looked over by everyone else.