Saturday, February 8, 2014

Amen Rahiem

Hey, here's a pleasant surprise. I totally slept on this record, and I suspect almost all of you guys did, too; seeing as how there is virtually no coverage of this record anywhere out there.  No blog posts, no soundcloud links, nothin' - even though this seems to have dropped back in July. And just what is this record? Amen Ra? And is that Ex-President Jimmy Carter I see photographed on the label? Well, yes, it is. What we have here is a solo EP by Rahiem of the legendary Furious Five. And it's hot.

Now, this isn't one of those collections of lost recordings from back in the day. This is modern stuff. And it's not just modern in that it's new material; it's modern in that it doesn't sound old schoolish at all. If you didn't know it was Rahiem, yeah, you can tell from his voice he's no teenager (something I would consider a plus, but the general music buying public seems to take as a definite minus), but he doesn't at all sound like somebody who came up in the 70s with the Funky Four* and disco hip-hop. Nor does it sound 80s or 90s. But, on the flip side, I can thankfully say that it also doesn't sound trendy. It's timeless, true school hip-hop.

A chunk of the credit for that certainly has to go to Rahiem himself. He's updated his flow since the old days, and actually comes off rather well, lyrically. You know, one tends to think of Melle Mel as the real lyricist of the crew, and everybody as just his back up. But Rahiem proves himself more than capable of flying solo. He kicks freestyle rhymes with a deft flair for high energy multis on "Vintage," but also serious, substantive songs. "No Regrets" is a surprisingly frank autobiography dealing with his long-term struggle with coke dependance: "I blew more dough than most adults see in a lifetime at eighteen... I was coppin' when shit was a hundred a gram, in the back room of The Fever gettin' dumb with my man." And you just won't hear a lot of rappers admit, "my career took a nosedive."

It's not all perfect, however. There are a few bumpy lines and references that stick out. I mean, also in "No Regrets" he refers to the pipe having "me obeyin' my thirst." A line which on its own could be pretty effective if it weren't obviously a pointless and silly reference to those old Sprite commercials. Also in the same song he references The A-Team and other superficial pop culture stuff that's quite typical in hip-hop, but really undercuts the dark, personal earnestness of the song as a whole. Don't get me wrong, it's not so bad that it ruins the song to anything... it's not like when you catch Lady Gaga say the lyric, "I'm fluffin' with my muffin" and realize you can never again listen to her record without face-palming. It's never more egregious than I've cited and isn't enough to spoil the song... but it does take a couple notches lower than the heights it could've achieved.

Anyway, I said a "chunk" of the credit for this new sound goes to Rahiem. That's because probably an even bigger portion probably goes to producer Dextah, who produced this record. I can't say I was familiar with him, but looking him up online I see this is not his first project on the label. He's got a very dark, atmospheric feel to his work... it kind of reminds me of DJ Krush when he first blew up. There's a bit of a "clangy" cymbal-heavy sound to his percussion I could do without, but that's my sole complaint. His music is vibrant yet moody, even sinister, and still true to pure hip-hop rhythms at its core. The music is also very original... only the opening track uses recognizable samples we'd heard before on BDP's "My Philosophy," which is given a cool update here.

And another nice touch I have to highlight is that there are no hooks. It's just the MC and his music. He either raps straight through the song from beginning to end, or takes momentary pauses between his verses, and that's it. It's a very refreshing step away from the hackneyed pop formula, just giving you what works. There's also a really powerful change of music midway through one of the songs (again "No Regrets") that hits hard. It actually reminded me of Siah and Yeshua DapoED's masterpiece "A Day Like Any Other," except instead of an upbeat song about teaching Pokemon to freestyle (or whatever was supposed to be going on in that song haha), it's a black, harrowing rhyme about a man's life crumbling over a somber track.

There's four songs here in total, with instrumentals for each on the flip. Also on the B-side is a Justoleum Kingspitter Remix of "No Regrets" by none other than Big Juss of Company Flow. It blends in nicely with the rest of the EP, heavy with a choral vocal sample all twisted up in the background. It's quite good, with the sort of drums you'd associate with a Juss project, and distinct enough that it almost feels like a fifth song.

So this is described as a limited release, but I can't find it stated anywhere just how limited. Again, there's virtually no information about this record's existence at all, and few hits there are all have the same, short write-up. I'm gonna guess the pressing was very small, though (shit's not even on discogs), considering how obscure this record is. It seems to only be available from accesshiphop and Midheaven Distribution directly. So I would snatch this one up while the opportunity is there. Oh, and did I mention that this is on Grandgood Records? It's great to see them pressing up another vinyl release, and this makes a very worthy follow-up to their old 7" by DJ Signify and Grandmaster Caz. Don't sleep!

*Rahiem was also an original member of The Funky Four, but left before they started making records. Sort of like how Raheem left The Ghetto Boys before they established their famous line-up and blew up.

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