PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

One Be Lo: The R.E.B.I.R.T.H.

Chris Gaerig

Suburban Detroit native’s latest release is a collection of street-conscious jams and succinct lyricism.

One Be Lo

The R.E.B.I.R.T.H.

Label: Subterraneous
US Release Date: 2007-12-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

One Be Lo's alias OneManArmy is somewhat of a misnomer. Coming from the impoverished streets of Pontiac, Michigan, he inadvertently belongs to a select yet growing group of proficient, Detroit-based emcees -- all of whom are born of the dogma of deceased producer J Dilla. Among the likes of Phat Kat, Black Milk, and Slum Village, One Be Lo is rooted in the old-school, soul-sampled sounds of Dilla's production while preaching about civil injustices, street life, and what it takes to get by. And though this seems to pigeonhole One as a cookie-cut backpack emcee, he's found a way to elevate the genre á la Mos Def's Black On Both Sides and Talib Kweli's Quality with his latest release The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. (Real Emcee's Bring Intelligent Rhymes To Hip-hop).

Though none of the Dilla's beats appear on R.E.B.I.R.T.H., the Detroit sound (read: Dilla's sound) permeates the entire disc. The album's opener "Rebirth" features a sample that recalls RZA's Shaolin interludes before exploding into the signature synth-driven bounce and swinging, hazy percussion. One's innovative lyricism becomes immediately apparent: "I refuse to lose, lose, lose like echo". His use of syntactical construction to mirror the context of his flows is impressively catchy and effective. "War" is similarly Dilla-esque. The cascading bells and walking bassline hint at Dilla's more spastic work.

But the beats aren't the only aspect of the disc that breathe Detroit. The epochal "Born & Raised" boasts One’s time growing up in Pontiac ("They say there’s no place like home"). A far cry from the traditional Queensbridge and Chi-town shout outs on similar releases, he name drops the local venues and abandoned stadiums: "I'm somewhere between the Silverdome and Phoenix Center". The track also confronts the problems facing Michigan, namely the metropolitan Detroit area. He sympathizes with the current declining automotive market while referencing the '70s economic boom and early climax that followed a decade later -- one of the causes of its eventual downfall.

It's instances like this that make One's brand of conscious hip hop so much more affecting and powerful than his contemporaries. Recently, where artists like Common and Talib Kweli rap about the problems in hip hop and why the genre should be respected again, One returns to backpacking's roots, truly confronting the social ills that he encounters: racism, poverty, etc.

In that vein, much of R.E.B.I.R.T.H. deals with issues much larger than those relegated to the Detroit area. The aforementioned confrontational "War" features a spoken intro about the lack of police action in poor, African American neighborhoods before slamming into the chorus, "You know what this means? / War!" A track about vigilante justice, it is far from the boisterous claims of thug-rappers like 50 Cent but carries a sadistic, violent ambivalence -- this is a problem some people live with but may not ultimately despise as much as hegemonic culture suggests they should, a coming-of-age aspect of city life. Similarly, "House Rules" is a track about drug dealing that doesn't necessarily glorify it, positing rather as a way to make a living.

Aside from the occasional misstep (the dull, plodding production on "Headlines", the repetitive chorus of "Smash") R.E.B.I.R.T.H. is arguably one of the best conscious hip hop albums of the last several years, all of this coming shortly after the death of One Be Lo’s greatest contemporary. But as this disc shows, Dilla's sound lives on. And One Be Lo is raising Detroit from the ashes.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.