Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Complete Return Of Omniscence, part 1

So, I've pretty thoroughly covered all the great releases that've resurrected Omniscence's lost 90s material, both rare and unreleased. But apart from his initial "Raw Factor 2.0" single in 2012, I'd been kinda putting off getting into all the new stuff he's been doing in the last couple years. If you've been missing it, the resurgence of his music has basically propelled a full throttle comeback, which has been running right alongside the reissues this whole time. But with the arrival of his latest double CD collection, I think it's time to finally break it all down.

The first record - or cassette, which is what I went for - to follow up the "2.0" 7" was the Sharp Objects EP in 2013. It's essentially a five-song EP to start us off on the idea of new, modern Omniscence music. But Gentlemens Relief Records packs it so generously full of bonus tracks, remixes and instrumentals, it (depending on which version you get) winds up being longer than most LPs. And really, the first thing to address even before we get into specific songs or colors of vinyl, is just this: how is new Omniscence? Does it sound like his old stuff? Will fans of his classic material really want to hear this, or is it just gonna piss 'em off and disappoint people.

And the answer to that question is pretty much exactly what you want it to be. It sounds like he never went away. This isn't some low-fi recording of him trying in vain to imitate Bobby Shmurda or some other popular teenage rapper over awful, computery tracks emailed to him by some random myspace producer.  He sounds like himself, he's got production to match, and yet he's not completely stuck in the 90s either. He's got rhymes for now. And sure, this is somewhat throwback rap. He's definitely trying (and succeeding!) to recapture the magic of the singles that made him famous in 1995. So this EP would sound out of place in a Youtube Playlist of Fetty Wap and 2 Chainz videos. He's embracing the style he mastered - which I think is what we want all artists making a comeback to do, rather than chasing fads.

A big, big chunk of the credit has to go to his new producer, Debonair P, who conveniently runs his label, GRR. In the past, I raved about how much I loved his production style for his group Low Budget. Well, this shit sounds nothing like that stuff; but it's great in another way. It's way more mellow, smoothed out and subtle... and very much in keeping with the kind of music Fanatic and them were making for Omni back in the day. I've heard that remix EP Deb released long before he started working with Omniscence, though, so I know he didn't just pull this sound of the air when that collaboration started; it was always in his wheelhouse. It's just with, with Omni, he's finally found a home for it. 'Cause this style fits Omniscence more than it did those other songs he was remixing. Deb P is also nice enough on the turntables to provide a lot of very Premier-like scratch hooks.

So this EP features four brand new songs, plus a new remix of "Raw Factor 2.0." And just to clarify, I mean a NEW remix, because the "2.0" single had a remix on the B-side. But that remix isn't the one on here either; it's a third, exclusive remix. This one's much jazzier, especially thanks to the big, summery horn sample that opens the track up. I feel like it takes it further in the direction the first remix was going in a cooler, more laid back alternative to the original.

"Welcome," as you might expect, is an introduction to Omniscence. HE tells the story of his life, lays down where he's coming from, and eases us into lyrical style by keeping it subtly rather than showy: "my world off the rocker but I keep it within. Fuck a spoon, I'ma show ya how to eat with a pen." "Ease My Mind" feels like a sex song he wrote in the 90s and just never recorded 'till now. It's basically built on the same loop as Gangstarr's "Gotta Get Over," which is sure to make it a fan pleaser. "Letter To the Better" is the kind of old school reminiscing track we've heard many times by now, and it's got an R&B girl on the chorus which is a little on the nose, but Omni manages to keep it authentic and respectable. "Church and State," from it's title, sounds like it's going to be the preachy message song of the record, but it's actually his hardest, most skill-flexing song. It features a guest verse by a fellow NC native K-Hill who sounds pretty good and holds his own alongside Omni, which isn't easy.

So, in a way that's the whole EP... But then you've got the remixes. Every single song on here is featured a second time, with an entirely new instrumental. There's actually two remixes here for "Welcome," "Letter To the Better" and "Ease My Mind." For the most part, I tend to prefer the original versions; but the remixes are all distinct enough that you can basically listen to the whole EP like it's twelve different songs. And I do prefer the remix to "Ease My Mind," both because it has a funkier, bouncier track, and because it replaces the sung chorus with a new scratch hook with a sick Big Daddy Kane vocal sample. Another cool thing which keeps the remixes fresh is that "Church and State" replaces its second verse, K-Hill's, with a new one by a new guest MC named Paul Bunyun. That's a terrible name, but his verse is alright. He sounds like one of those guys you hear on a Detroit posse cut when they have a million MCs on it.

Sharp Objects came out in a couple different versions. There were two vinyl EPs, 150 pressed on purple translucent wax and 150 pressed on blue swirl, both of which came in picture covers. The only downside is that two of the bonus remixes - the second "Welcome" and "Letter To the Better" remixes aren't on them. They're only included on the very limited cassette version, which has the same cover art and is made of gold plastic. What's more, all twelve of those songs fit on one side of the cassette, so all of the instrumental versions are included on the B-side. But if you think it sucks that vinyl lovers had to miss out on the instrumentals, a separate instrumental record. Limited to 150 copies, it also featured the two bonus remixes from the cassette. So yes, if you copped both vinyl EPs, you could have everything, just like with the cassette.

...And jeez, I didn't expect my coverage of just the first EP to run so long. I wound up having more to say than I anticipated. Well, I'm just going to have to break this up into two posts. So come back tomorrow (or, latest, the next day) for Part 2, because there's a lot more of Omniscence's return to get to.

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