Humble Beast (August 31, 2010)
Review by Ahnon Knomis
Let me preface this review with a little history lesson. I’m also stating now that I’ve personally been a fan of Othello’s music since first hearing his unique voice and delivery style on the Sphere of Hip-Hop MP3.com page back in the late 90’s. The first song that caught my ear was called “A War Going On” which was streaming on the page. Back then Othello was part of a 3 man crew called Lojique whom released one of my favorite albums of that era Lojique’s Language Arts. That album was coincidentally the only Lojique album to feature Othello, Page One and Nickels as a trio and soon after Othello went his separate way. Othello later connected with Braille and Ohmega Watts to form the Lightheaded crew as well as focus on a solo career.
Fast forward to 2010 (nearly 12 years after first hearing Othello) and this charismatic emcee has left a discography of projects that have yet to see the break-out success I felt he was due. That is, until now. First lets dig a little deeper to better understand how we’ve gotten to this latest effort.
As part of Othello’s discography he and crew Lightheaded had at least 2 accounted for full lengths and 2 EP’s together. As a solo artist Elevator Music (2005) was Othello’s first solo effort out on the Syntax Records label. Aside from a few standout tracks I felt the effort missed the production mark by not fully complementing Othello’s vocal style and even so Othello himself fell a bit short by trying to bounce weighty lyrics off his stanzas in machine gun fashion without allowing his audiences to fully soak in the experience. The result for the listener was not being able to digest his messages at times. I often wished the production better suited his style and felt it never lived up to my expectations as a fan.
Just prior to the Syntax release was a rare album I had the incredible opportunity to own. A collaborative live jazz album originally released in Japan with Othello kicking rhymes performing with a jazz band known as the Hipknotics. The recoding although probably studio recorded nevertheless felt so alive like they were right in your living room or car and you were their only audience. The album is called Classic (2004) and a fitting title if ever there was one. The combination of Othello’s smooth vocal presence and The Hipknotics live jazz sound proved a gem in my collection of fine music and a incredibly fitting release for Othello’s unique style. Good luck locating a copy as this is a rare find. Luckily there is a digital download available on the Sphere store but the die-hard disc owners will be hard pressed to locate this one as I believe it is out of print.
Following up to his first studio solo album and the hip-hop/jazz album was the HipHop IS Music release of Alive at the Assembly Line. A giant step forward for Othello from his first album Elevator Music as he definitely elevated his sound on the assembly line. Top production credits from Stro (The Procussions), Ohmega Watts, ill Mind, M-Phazes, and Siamese Sisters proved to aid Othello on a large progression in his sound. That album was full of stand-outs but again on a few occasions Othello suffered from a lack of continuity when focusing on a consistent sound that fit his style from track to track. A good portion of the album did him justice but unfortunately there where quite a few that kept me from enjoying the album from to start to finish as a whole experience. A step up nonetheless.
Now that we’ve successfully dissected Othello’s releases to this point its time to see where all this was leading…. If for nothing else I felt it was crucial to point out Othello’s continued progress in his music releases especially on this his latest effort with the combination of DJ Vajra’s beats and Othello. This proved to be the most progressive and polished work I have heard yet from Othello. Hands down this is his most solid release to date and the one I have been waiting for and enjoyed listening to… not only as a fan of his music… but as a whole album listening experience!
From the upbeat heart pumping drums on the lead in track “We’re Coming” to the melodious heartfelt insights on the last track “It’s… featuring Dminor” the production stability and unique sound of DJ Vajra’s production fit Othello perfectly! The beats were always on tempo and Othello matched the cadence with precision wordplay. He’s conscious in his content, as usual, but with a sense of confidence and an old school demeanor comes through. The boom-bap sound and break-beats left me to believe that the resistance to the mainstream sound of today was found in The Required Taste. This was no doubt an intentionally stark contrast to the keyboard synthetic sounds of today’s radio and commercial rap. Othello and DJ Vajra took us to the underground sampling sounds the vinyl junkies and dirty drum fanatics still crave… all the while still maintaining the modern beat structures and layering found on top productions today. The result was a perfect score (meant both as in the musical sense and rating of this album review).
My hat is off to Othello and DJ Vajra for creating an upbeat, feel good album, with all the wittiness and dynamics to complement a summer party poolside. Without missing a step one could find this on city streets blasting out of the car speakers to enhance a block party atmosphere and win over even the most skeptical of crowds.
I’ll end my review by mentioning the one hook that had me on the album. The lead single “Active Balanced” featuring Now On and Mayer Hawthorne is an ode to every beat maker, to ever basement studio, every emcee who ever wrote lyrics on loose leafs… sitting in their apartments in love with the music… in love with the grind and passion and honesty in the struggle of making that music… With a music video void of flashy outfits (more like sweatpants) void of dancing video vixens (unless you count Othello bumping to the beats in his apartment doorway the equivalent of a video vixen) and void of countless cliches… They definitely do a good job making sure you know that this album is for you. Not for the mass consuming drones of the pop culture but for the true fans of the essence of the music. If you have ever read a review of mine you know that “relate-ability” is my number 1 successful element that I look for in any albums. Its also where the pop crowd has gone willingly wrong… but that’s an editorial for another time and place. Othello and Dj Vajra successfully translates their relate-ability to each of their listeners through experiences in their struggles and their triumphs and that’s why in my humble opinion we as listeners flock to the sounds that we do.
Without a doubt in my mind…. you NEED to own this album!
For fans of: Lightheaded, Braille, Ohmega Watts, Theory Hazit, The Procussions, Mr J Medeiros, Surreal, Zion I, Ugly Duckling, Deepspace 5, Scribbling Idiots, Pharcyde, Move Merchants, good upbeat breaks and boom-bap sound with conscious content meant to uplift with an overall feel good vibe.