The DIY rapper/producer from Maryland aims for a more sophisticated sound but only occasionally succeeds.
On his first two full lengths, Candy Medicine and Soul Purpose, Maryland-based DIY rapper/producer ScholarMan perfected the art of bedroom hip-hop. His productions were incredibly simple: sparse, dub-like drum beats that rarely changed tempo from song to song; stripped-down accompaniments that hummed more than they crackled and quietly changed key without the listener even realizing it; laid-back rapping that could in no way be described as angry; and lyrics, devoid of anything remotely resembling cynicism or irony, that were sincere, sweet, and earnest. All in all, ScholarMan became the Low or American Analog Set of the hip-hop genre. And, like these bands, what made ScholarMan's music compelling was that his lo-fi aesthetic always seemed to be the result of an artistic choice rather than any technical limitation.
This isn't the case on Gameshift: The Movement, ScholarMan's latest offering. For the first time in his career, you can sense that ScholarMan is aiming for Dilla and Kanye territory, with complicated samples and layered beats. And while it’s always nice to see artists push themselves, on Gameshift ScholarMan stretches himself a bit too thin. The productions suffer from too much tinkering and end up sounding a bit contrived. Fortunately, ScholarMan's flow and lyrics are as fresh as ever and, in the end, are what make Gameshift a worthwhile spin, if only for ScholarMan fans.