Raashan Ahmad inhabits a particularly tenuous position in the current hip-hop spectrum: somewhere between the conscious stylings of early Mos Def and the mainstream mindset of Kanye West. If he weren’t so unabashedly in love with the idea of hip-hop itself, Ahmad would undeniably sway one way or the other — more likely the former. But with his boisterous claims of lyrical love, his debut solo release The Push — he was formerly the MC frontman of California troupe Crown City Rockers — is a blend of glossy flows about the highs of superstardom and the lows of everyday life, the perfect mixture of braggadocio and thoughtful introspection.
Though The Push carries only 13 tracks, it has 12 different producer credits, with only Ahmad receiving a double by-line. Somewhat miraculously though, the album maintains a consistency that is seemingly impossible with this many producers. But given that five of the tracks are produced by Ahmad’s former bandmates Crown City Rockers, it shouldn’t be too surprising.
A majority of The Push‘s production centers on juicy horns and thick, medium-well snare kicks. The Descry-produced “If I” bursts open with a classic funk bass line, while the horns and titter-tat hi-hat snaps pepper the background. Similarly, “The Crush” — producer by Crown City Rocker Headnodic — is a guitar-driven hop about Ahmad’s love of his craft.
The production typically matches the lyrical content and tone perfectly, but there are a few slip-ups, namely the sample-laden “Weight.” As Ahmad flows about the man and Black oppression, DJ Vadim layers perennial white dudes the Zutons’ “Pressure Point”. Needless to say, it’s a little off-putting, even if it is a really cool sample.
And though I could go on for days about the work everyone else put into the disc, it’s Ahmad’s lyrics and production that are truly noteworthy. To say nothing of his lyricism on the tracks, the two Ahmad produced himself have the most diverse and intriguing beats. The Push‘s opener “Hello” is a mechanical beast that rides metallic snares and searing horns, while “Cancer”, about his mother’s battle with the disease, is haunted by an eerie loop of women’s screams and prodding percussion.
Ahmad truly shines, though, in the same position he’s carried with the Crown City Rockers for all these years: behind the mic. Mixing words together into alliterative stews, Ahmad strings together line after line of pop culture references and nearly excessive internal rhyme. He puts former Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2na to shame on “City Feel Proud”, with spitfire accuracy: “Ready to break / the son of the sun, disciple of soul / siren of the scroll / shop shocking and pop locking you hear it / it’s glock popping delirious.” And he continues to spit similar lines throughout The Push. On the selfless “Give Thanks”, Ahmad rips, “But thanks to the heroes of war / like Malcolm or Harriet there’s still much more / or like moms and pops who moved block to boulevard / through crooked cops or bad times they shine still with God.”
The only real complaint that can be filed against The Push is that there are no true standouts. The entire album is very good, but rarely will you find yourself hitting the replay button. The production is tight and the flows are precise, but Ahmad seems unable to regale us for longer than The Push‘s running time. If you put in the effort, this album is littered with lyrical gems, but don’t fret if you can’t: Ahmad doesn’t give too much reason to.