Tuesday, March 8, 2011

They Can't Control Their... Split Personality

Last summer, UK hip-hop trio Rhyme Asylum dropped their second album, Solitary Confinement, to some positive reception. Unfortunately, like most albums these days, it was released on CD and mp3 only. So vinylism (sort of a German Sandbox or HipHopSite, except they didn't bail out on vinyl) got together with the group, picked their favorite eight (out of eighteen) tracks, and pressed up this EP, The Overdose.

It's labeled a limited edition, but I find any reference to just how many copies it's limited to; and it's also priced like a standard modern release; not one of those high-priced collectors editions we've been seeing. it comes in a very cool picture cover and features a couple guests (Crooked I, Reain, DarkStar and Ill Bill) who do a good job of blending into their aural surroundings. But you're probably thinking, "yeah, but Werner; I've never heard of these guys. What's this like; is it any good?"

Alright, well, in general they've got a really nice underground but lush sound. Lyrically, Rhyme Asylum seem to come in two modes (albeit in varying degrees). They're either spitting creative, hardcore backpacker-type rhymes - just dancing on the line of falling into "horrorcore" - which is where they excel. They mix clever hip-hop wordplay with vivid imagery... that kind of shit groups like Atoms Family or Virtuoso kicked in their best, early days:

"I keep my eyes peeled with hunting knives;
My voice alone provokes stone gargoyles to come to life.
Gave nightmares spittin' Lucifer lullabies;
Tried it a hundred times but can't seem to fucking die.
Run and hide when disaster strikes."

...Or they're kicking these kind of sappy, motivational, "yay, America [or England, I suppose, in this case], we can do it!" pep rally lyrics:

"Let 'em know you've got no reason to fail;
No one's gonna believe in you until you believe in yourself.
(Believe that!) We all hope for a little bit of luck.
People told me I suck but I didn't give a fuck."

And musically, they've got the same dichotomy going. On the one hand, they've got some fresh scratch hooks (their DJ comes nice with his when they utilize him, but that isn't nearly enough). And on the other, they go for that shouting Rah Rah kind of upbeat anthem vibe. And the samples switch from dark and moody to pop rock guitars and smashing cymbals. One step farther and they might've had ICP's "Homies" on their hands!
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But like I said, it's in varying degrees... most songs sit somewhere between the two poles I just described, with more generic, middle-ground hip-hop rhymes where they're mixing the dark images ("Valkyries clean up after my dogs of war... Lucifer's rejects; shoulders are stumps where I used to have three heads") and the self esteem boosters ("don't let anyone tell you you're chasing an impossible dream") into more traditional hip-hop braggadocio ("this is hip-hop music's inner vision, bringing you back to pure facts fused with super lyricism"). And instrumentally, too, you're left with mixed results like "Event Horizon," where there's some tight rhymes over a great, atmospheric beat (think Sunz of Man before they let their label try to push them into the mainstream), but spoiled by a cheesy chorus.

So, at the end of the day, they're hot when they're at their best. You're definitely missing out if you don't check for songs like "Open Mic Surgery." But most are mixed bags, where just as one element starts drawing you in, another comes along to turn you off again. And one or two songs, while still displaying some quality production, could really have been left out all together. Ultimately, I recommend picking up this EP; there's a lot of talent and earnest craftsmanship on display... and best of all, some sick rhymes. But I don't imagine anyone needs to go so far as to pick up Solitary Confinement for the extra songs on CD or anything so overboard as that.

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