Eyedea & Abilities: E&A

Eyedea & Abilities

We must have expected a friggin’ miracle with E&A. Why wouldn’t we? Behind the mic, you’ve got Eyedea, the fabled underground MC who killed the HBO Blaze freestyle battle some four years ago, and will, unfortunately, never live down the expectations implied when you’re one of the most badass wordsmiths in all the land. Behind the wheels of steel you’ve got Abilities, the two-time DMC regional champion and decidedly mediocre producer who will, unfortunately, never live down his rep as one of the most badass turntablists and mediocre producers in all the land.

Now then. With championship belts in appropriate corners, we can hopefully move on from 1999 (the year in which Eyedea won the Scribble Jam), 2000 (the year in which Eyedea won the televised Blaze Battle), 2001 (the last year in which Abilities won a DMC title and the year in which Eyedea and Abilities released their debut, First Born, after which Eyedea was still considered a badass and Abilities not so much so) to 2004, the year in which Eyedea and Abilities released their second LP together on — you guessed it — that holiest of holies for up and coming anathemic white boy rappers, Epitaph Records.

Really folks, we’re moving on. From the sound of its moniker, E&A is one stellar magnification of said MC’s and DJ’s assholes. In fact, you could probably give the record a quick listen, hear a cut like “Two Men and a Lady”, and assume Abilities’ role on the record resembles the mind-numbing wankfest that tends to preclude any human emotion from the overextended turntablism experience; or, from the other end, you could hear a cut like “E&A Day” or “Star Destroyer”, and assume Eyedea has his head so far up his ass that he might actually be a rapper.

Fortunately, “Two Men and a Lady” isn’t a wankfest. It only wants you to think it is, literally. It starts out with some nasty porn soundbites, moves into a section from Chasing Amy, and eventually ends with a clip from Todd Solondz’s Storytelling. It has the narrative detail and focus of a twisted short story — or maybe a snuff flick — and it’s augmented by Abilities’ rapid-fire sampling. It does exactly what good turntabilism should, or what good music of any persuasion should: tell a story with style and balls.

Thankfully, Eyedea suffers from the same shortcomings as his partner. What appears to be mythic self-indulgence is merely one aspect of the rapper’s ego, and there are plenty of great songs on E&A to off-center the annoying repetitiveness inherent in battlerapdom. If anything, Eyedea tries too hard to make grand statements about humanity’s universal failures, and they end up falling short. Tracks like “Man vs. Ape” (which was actually banned from the Warped Tour CD, so you have to figure it can’t be that bad) and “Paradise” just sound overdone. They’re too in-depth to be abstract, and too aloof to be meaningful, so they end up sounding condescending and detached.

But these are minor complaints. If there’s anything significantly wrong with the album, it’s that “Now” and “Glass” — undoubtedly the two standout tracks on E&A — leave everything else in the dust. They’re the first and last track, so you’re basically waiting to hear something as mind blowing for the entire album; and when you finally do, it’s over. That might be great for the concept, but it’s goddamn frustrating to think that — here it is folks, the argument posed by critics across the land — Eyedea and Abilities aren’t living up to their potential. That’s right, a whole heap of talent doesn’t necessarily equal doodely squat. Before I’m lumped in with the other E&A haters, let me analogize.

The record is basically like a meth binge: it knocks you on your ass right off the bat, and it’s not until a couple of hours later (or approximately forty minutes later), once the cottonmouth and diuretic rants have subsided, that you’re knocked on your ass once again. Problem is, there’s much to be had from the cottonmouthed diatribes. Take “One Twenty”, a cracked-out piano jam that sounds like it might be Twista if the Chicago MC had a sense of humor, “Act Right”, a battle rap that’s as dense as a Beastie Boys cut circa Paul’s Boutique, or “Kept”, which sounds more like Jurassic 5 than Jurassic 5 does, and you’ve got some really strong, diverse sounds, both sonically and lyrically. Nevertheless, you still want to talk about the other two tracks more.

Remember “Just to Prove a Point” off KRS One’s last good record, way back in ’97? Well, take that, subtract the cornball Nu-Metal, add some “House of the Rising Sun” guitar, some lo-fi, spazzy live drums, Eyedea pacing his rhymes to Abilities’ scratches, and a relentlessly shifting rhythm that teeters between delicate and chaotic. Hence the song title “Glass”.

“Now” is the single off E&A, so I’m sure you’ve already heard it. In case you haven’t, the production sounds like space rap — it’s slow, cathartic, guitar and synth heavy, and Eyedea rhymes really really really fast.

What most critics seem to forget is how much these guys have progressed as songwriters. E&A is a hundred times more interesting and complex than the team’s debut, or even Eyedea’s solo joint, The Many Faces of Oliver Hart, and it’s far better than plenty of the underground stuff out at the moment. Sure, it has its moments of uninspired sobriety, but the criticisms have — surprise, surprise! — been more about the critic’s laziness, not Eyedea’s and Abilities’. So, regardless of what you’ve heard, E&A is worth your money, and definitely worth your time — if you’re willing to give it.