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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Javotti Media - The Cathedral Album Review

Talib Kweli has a deep history of working with strong talent in its early stages before he or she has achieved huge popularity; Kanye West’s 3 beats on Kweli’s 2002 effort Quality come to mind most immediately. With that kind of credibility, any album Kweli co-signs, such as label Javotti Media’s new project The Cathedral, deserves a look. While it’s never easy to identify a superstar before they’re born, the undiscovered star of this show is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the very one that Kweli himself decided to release an album with a few years ago under the homonymic moniker Idle Warship.

That musician is singer Res, a budding star who shines on the 14th track of The Cathedral, entitled “For Who You Are,” which reminds the listener of an old jazz standard in the best possible way. The comparisons that this Philly vocalist is sure to draw to Lauryn Hill circa The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, or Aretha Franklin in her prime, makes a listener wonder why this track was placed towards the end of the album. The fact that there is no conventional rapping on this song speaks to the more general fact that there is something here for everyone, no matter their favorite rap subgenre.

 “Purest Heart” is almost a chopped and screwed beat from Texas, with its unintelligible vocal samples, spastic hi-hats, layered snare slaps, and double-time tempo. “Manifest Destiny” has a 90s Atlanta-esque groove that’s supported by truly funky horns before an extreme bebop brass solo takes over. A classic rap stoner track, “Roll Me Up,” recalls the slower kind of Dr. Dre G-funk with its expansive keyboards. “Doc Shebeleza Remix” even features a textbook Memphis triplet flow from Cassper Nyovest. This perhaps isn’t surprising when the diverse geographical origins of this crew are recognized: Cory Mo was born in Houston, while débutante Res comes from Philadelphia originally.

But these references to larger musical currents in mainstream Hip Hop are always bolstered by a willingness to embrace the eclectic. “Hypnotized Snakes,” from NIKO IS, makes use of an Middle Eastern music vocal sample that somehow works perfectly with the Latin percussion behind it. These musicians also consistently show a willingness to think beyond just hooks and choruses. There are multiple instrumental interludes, such as on the aforementioned “Manifest Destiny.” Meanwhile, K-Valentine’s “Chiraq” is a singeing, searing freestyle that clocks in at almost two-and-a-half minutes. “What’s Real (Live)” has an extended dynamic crescendo at the end.

This compilation isn’t the Boss Yo Life Up Gang album of 2013, whose spotlight shown on established artists Young Jeezy and YG. The Cathedral conversely mixes in a number of appearances from more established talent who will draw in a larger public to hear their lesser known brethren. Appearances from Pharoahe Monch, Big K.R.I.T., and the album anchor, Kweli, should be enough to grab many mainstream underground listeners. Kweli himself leads the way on the first track, setting the tone for the originality found on the rest of the album by using a wide-ranging, affected delivery that one doesn’t hear very often from him. The long block rhymes are still there, however; “foolishness” flipped with “pugilist” are classic Kweli.

If The Cathedral doesn’t make use of old school sounds as much as one might expect, directed as it is by an experienced NYC rapper, then it makes use of an old school aesthetic. That’s a holistic, comprehensive artistic approach. For example, before Nas’ Illmatic in 1994, most production for an album was handled all by the same producer, as by Eric B. for Rakim on Paid In Full in 1987. There are no breaks for silence, even for a second, between each track on The Cathedral, and each track’s own beat frequently bleeds into the next. Even the host of the album, Affion Crockett, is a throwback to the original meaning of a rapper’s initials: MC. Affion is more a master of ceremonies than someone who just introduces and ends each song with ad libs, instead acting as a comedian who commentates on all of the album’s action as a fully integrated player. Throw in quotes or samples of Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, and Fleetwood Mac, and these artists’ musical consciousness turns out to be strongly unified.

Overall, the refreshingly large ambition of this musically kaleidoscopic album results in something that is greater than the sum of its parts. With so many versatile sounds from so many different artists that all work together as one, prospective listeners would do well to keep an eye (and an ear) out for these artists’ upcoming solo projects.

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