Dave Santos “Stages” album review

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AudioSketchBook (September 14, 2010)
Review by Samson

You’ve heard Dave Santos’s work. If not, you should have. Santos’s production goes back as far as Sev Statik’s 2002 Speak Life and has also been featured on “Better” and “Indigo”, two stand-out tracks from Sev’s 2008 Shotgun LP. Santo’s latest release, Stages, is his first full-length album and a forty-minute collection of instrumentals and guest-laden rap tracks.

Dave Santos introduces himself by offering some jazzy loops and nice cuts from DJ Bobbito on the opening track. However, with the listener comfortable, he kicks down the door by laying out a triple combination of bangers delivered by a grip of heavyweight emcees who bring out the best in his production. First, Santos unveils a remix of a Shames Worthy verse from “Here We Go Again” off of Shame’s latest project, The Album, punctuated by robust horns and driving violins. Next, Santos serves up a dream-team collaboration of Propaganda, Sivion, and Sev Statik on “Further Light.” The combination of Props, Siv, and Sev bring out the best of the Santos production. Sivion delivers smooth and original vocals on the hook and all three of the emcees drop deep lyrics that feature complex rhyme schemes and unique cadences. Finally, Santos completes his hat trick and evens out the first third of the album with “We Love the Hate,” a hard-core, hook-less, rapid-fire cypher spit by the Scribbling Idiots crew featuring Theory Hazit, Mouth Warren, Cas Metah, Wonder Brown, and JustMe.

However, in the second third of the album, “Stages” stumbles slightly. “Everybody,” a basic gospel hip-hop track about staying on the grind and fighting through problems, suffers from some fairly simplistic rhymes and a hook whose vocals start off thin and are nearly stretched to their breaking point at the track’s bridge. On “Stages of Life,” another problematic track, Man of War exhibits some strong rhymes but struggles with a flat and monotonous hook.

Fortunately, Santos recovers nicely in the final third of Stages. “U-Turn” takes the listener to church with uplifting vocals by Carlos Romo that mesh perfectly with the production. The track’s message about redemption and God’s ability to “U-Turn” the lives of His people is the feel-good jam of the album. Next, Santos delivers his best instrumental, an intricate and meandering 2:33 minute odyssey called “New Heights.” Finally, Santos rounds out the album by flexing his backpacker muscle on “Impact,” an underground ballad that features gritty flows by Klarity and Gideon Valor.

The common theme of Stages is working through the different places we find ourselves in life to grow and develop. Not only is the theme highlighted in the fresh Manasseh cover art but throughout the tracks and instrumentals themselves. Despite a few missteps, on the whole the album works well. It is clear that Santos himself is growing as a producer with a knack for pairing the right artists with his production and a distinct style of punchy keyboards and stripped down drums. Stages is a solid initial showing for Mr. Santos who hopefully intends to share many more of his stages with the listener in the future.

For fans of: Tunnel Rats, Scribbling Idiots, Propaganda, Sivion, Sev Statik, Man of War

Purchase CD – download – iTunes

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