Humble Beast (February 1, 2011)
Review by Samson N.
Multi-talented, versatile, ambidextrous: a perfect way to describe the combination of Odd Thomas and Propaganda. Also a perfect way to describe Art Ambidextrous, the eleven-track album created by the joint efforts of Odd Thomas and Propaganda through Humble Beast Records. The use of the term “art” is no overstatement. Propaganda weaves together a complex and beautiful collection of hip-hop flows and spoken word deliveries over the Odd Thomas production that neither over- nor under-whelms but remains expertly measured. The result is an album that gives Propaganda room to work while remaining interesting and original.
And work he does. Anyone who has ever heard Props before knows he can deliver. In 2006, Propaganda, alongside the Tunnel Rats, dropped the hard-hitting I Am Not Them. In 2008, he announced, “Little homie, I’m back!” in the AudioSketchBook release Listen, Watch, Focus. In Art Ambidextrous, Props uses his signature Los Angeles flavor to describe what it means to struggle. Interestingly, through out the album Propaganda avoids simply encouraging listeners to merely survive struggles but encourages the listener to seek struggle for personal and spiritual growth.
In the opening track, The City, Propaganda explodes on-scene dropping bold spoken word lines like, “They say the city sings a song. And you can’t help to sing along. And I be looking in their eyes like, I’m sorry you’re dead wrong.” He then introduces himself to the listener, offering his own street cred to back up his assertion, “You think I’m playin’?! Man I’m from HP homie, by way of Acapulco! It would crush someone lesser,” following it up with the straightforward message: “you are not your hood homie, it did not make you.” Propaganda loads Art Ambidextrous with bold, straight talk from start to finish.
Odd Thomas and Propaganda also explore interesting concepts throughout the album. In a scenario rarely-explored in hip-hop but no doubt often experienced by listeners of the genre, Props describes the struggles of a single father in a custody battle with a difficult ex for his daughter in the spoken-word Inheritance, one of the more memorable tracks of the album. Props doesn’t shy away from the ugliness that comes from that scenario either, “and its not as simple, as yah homie I hit that/ how do you tell your daughter that’s what you thought of her Momma/But he can’t stand the site of her, in court he fighting her, frightening losing bad, judge think he lying.” He also uses the track to discuss the uphill battle many single fathers face with family in trying to establish their role, and of course, does it with his signature Cali-centric style, “Momma comes late she don’t want her to see him/And speaks so ill of him, “That boy ain’t no good! He grew up in Lynwood, he’ll always be hood!”
In the top track of the album, Propaganda and OT offer up the gutsy struggle-anthem, Dig. On the track, Propaganda transitions into a unique cadence that glides brilliantly over an Odd Thomas beat that mimics the rhythmic sound of a pickaxe driving into the dirt over complex strings and haunting keyboards. Here Props encourages the listener to dig and find whatever it is in the soul of the listener that holds them back or gives them the strength to go one more mile. He offers a glimpse into his history when he refers to his grandmother’s struggles or his father, a survivor of the Civil Rights era and a Vietnam Veteran. He reminds the listener that life depends how well they “dig” and offers the tightest flow of the album when he states “empty handed and homesick, though I know my flow’s sick, if y’all only know how cold this road gets, you’d dig!”
Although Dig, is the top track of the album, no review of Art Ambidextrous would be complete without mentioning Beautiful Pain. Beautiful Pain is a poetic masterpiece where Propaganda explores the beauty behind scars and the lessons of pain. Utilizing raw and gritty talk that respects the intelligence of his audience, Props drops gems: “Beautiful, Like Hail Mary Full of Grace she was proud of her stretch marks, how her skin expanded to bring forth the Son of Man that’s beautiful” or “Beautiful, like cheekbone birthmarks in the shapes of roses or third degree burns that retired firemen earn, what a privilege.”
There are no low points to the album. If anything, the listener can be lulled into a sense of “normalcy” due to a steady stream of powerful imagery and wordplay from Propaganda. Other songs like the title track, Art Ambidextrous, or Como Se Dice consistently illustrate these abilities. While there may be a tendency to wish for a song on the album without the strong sense of urgency or seriousness that would offer the listener a chance to exhale, this is simply not that kind of album. This is an outpouring of heart and passion. This is grind music for tough times. Propaganda says it best on the outro, “This is rap and poetry, emceeing and imagery, mic and the canvas, Art Ambidextrous.”
For fans of: Propaganda, Odd Thomas, Tunnel Rats, Braille