Somewhere between 1996 and 2000, two emcees from the Unspoken Heard collective recorded a whole bunch of songs that featured production from a pool of considerable talent. Asheru and Blue Black’s compilation, 48 Months, documents their startup through 2001’s Soon Come LP and includes outtakes as well as some other sought-after tracks. Perhaps the most important aspect of this project is explained in the heartfelt liner notes. In remaining consistent with what Asheru calls the “revolutionary” underground hip hop ideals that have worked so well for the Unspoken Heard collective, 48 Months is an opportunity for the duo to provide for their fans, inquiring DJ minds, and all others who’ve slept on this significant act.
The only problem, if any, is that if one was to have missed the boat on Asheru and Blue Black back in 2001 — say, a record reviewer for instance — well, he or she might not be able to distinguish between the two articulate gentlemen on said comp of oldies and newies. (Though each has his own distinctive flow, the styles are still similar and it tends to throw me off a bit. I’ll manage.)
After first shaking hands as students at the University of Virginia, Asheru and Blue Black teamed with some others to form what was to become the powerful underground force that is Seven Heads Entertainment. Following their performances and recordings for the “48 months” between 1996 and 2000, Asheru and Blue Black dropped the Unspoken Heard Soon Come… album, featuring beats and production work from Djinji Brown, J-Rawls, and 88 Keys, among others. The Sound Providers also played a part on the release and were presumably paid back when Asheru guested on their current jazzy ABB release An Evening With the Sound Providers. As discussed in the 48 Months liner notes, the bulk of the tracks have been released, but previously only on vinyl. Some folks don’t have record players and there was finally enough demand for Asheru and Blue Black to go back into the vaults and press these goods on this new-fangled CD technology. Enthusiasts of anything De La, Talib, Tribe, or whatever else the kids are calling “conscious” will find a warm place in their six-disc changer for this release. It’s packed with under-the-radar goodness.
The Bedroom Wizard’s work on the decks opens 48 Months. His beats on “Mid Atlantic” feature a meandering vibraphone and random bursts of a sax sample, while Asheru and Blue Black spit regional rhetoric over the hypnotic background chants “SC, NC, VA, DC, MD, Emcees sound this way”. A mix of the track originally appeared on Bedroom Wizard’s Magician’s Birthday record, and it introduces a Mid-Atlantic advantage that Ash and Blue Black have over other less-capable crews. This jazz and funk interplay is commonplace throughout the comp and follows the sharp lyrical content to the tee.
DJ Spinna, whose street cred can be traced ubiquitously to a number of labels not excluding Rawkus, Blue Note, Verve and some recent work in the BBE “Beat Generation” catalog, handles “Setting Sun”. The remarkable narrative content here is almost overshadowed by a complex free jazz experiment that Spinna molds with piano and a ghostly trailing vocal snippet. Again, it’s almost compelling enough to pull from the vocal, but it can’t, because the verses are too important.
It’s explained in the opening seconds that the story is about a father passing, before he is able to pass knowledge and necessary life lessons onto his son. The “Setting Sun” is played upon in a series of last words spoken from the perspective of the dying father. He’s “The Setting Sun”, “getting set to pass wisdom onto his son”, and the verses are conveniently interrupted by some ad-libbed monologue that explicates the tale even further. This works well to illustrate the metaphor for the “unspoken heard”, the “thing that you hear that doesn’t even have to be said”.
If there is any further proof required of Asheru and Blue Black’s keen ability to hide crisp diss verse in light-hearted melody and head-nodding jazz beats, the “Jamboree” single, originally part of an EP and then the LP, falls toward the end of the comp track list. It’s accompanied by its charming outtake counterpart, which is close enough to the finished product but different enough to be played alongside the winning result. The Seven Heads duo comes through for the entirety here, even if there’s occasionally a little trouble in telling them apart.