11/19 WKNC 88.1 Pick of the Week, written by Kunal Vasudev, DJ Wise, Underground 88.1
Though the MC-producer collaboration is a concept that seems to have been left in the past, every so often an MC and producer team up for an album that recalls the days when acts such as Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth and Gang Starr ruled the Hip-Hop scene. Brooklyn MC Skyzoo and New Jersey Hip-Hop producer !llmind team up to craft a sharp, 12-track record that seamlessly combines the sounds of Golden Age Hip-Hop with the sounds of today’s Hip-Hop.
From the opening track, Live from the Tape Deck presents itself as an album built heavily upon hard-hitting beats and filling rhymes. The album is Skyzoo’s sophomore effort, fresh off of his 2009 debut The Salvation, and definitely showcases the MC’s evolving lyrical abilities. Where The Salvation left off, Live picks up, featuring a more focused Skyzoo who exhibits the ability to use fundamentally sound rhymes to construct fleshed out verses. His grasp of the English language is displayed as well, as Sky is able to twist words to his desires and utilize them in simple yet effective ways. This is very clear from the get-go in the second track of the album, “Frisbee,” where Skyzoo starts each line with the last word of the previous line so seamlessly that you don’t even notice that it is being done. Even further, “The Winner’s Circle,” finds Skyzoo roleplaying as Lebron James, taking a little under three minutes to explain what took Mr. James an hour and a some years to get out to the world. But Skyzoo’s abilities are truly exhibited on “Krylon,” a track, which, on the surface, seems to be a simple ode to graffiti, but digging beneath the rhymes reveals a deep track filled with metaphors about violence in it’s many forms, whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual.
Of course, the album is not all about the impressive lyrical talents that Skyzoo showcases. !llmind, the Filipino-American producer hailing from New Jersey, displays why he is one of the most sought after producers in the Hip-Hop underground, producing for acts such as Little Brother, Boot Camp Clik, Supastition, and most recently Skyzoo. With Live, !ll attempts to capture the analog sound of the cassette and give it a more updated feel. What you have is typical East Coast boom bap percussion beneath layers of strings, synths and keys, which !llmind uses to create a haunting soundscape for Sky to mold his rhymes. It also does a brilliant job of recalling the hard-hitting sounds of the past while looking into the future of Hip-Hop production. The production calls for the best speakers one can find just to appreciate the richness, the honesty, and the fullness that !llmind weaves into his beats.
Live From the Tape Deck also has the bonus of making every part of the album feel apart of the album rather than just a collection of singles compiled together. The features, though appearing on four of the twelve tracks, match perfectly with Skyzoo and fit well with the records they are featured on, from Rhymefest on a political track to Torae backing up Skyzoo as “The Barrel Brothers.” And the intros & outros seamlessly transition into one another, never seeming out of place as the album progresses.
Ultimately, while Live From the Tape Deck evokes memories of the past, both through it’s title and the sound of the album, it is hard to attain that same feeling from the days of the tape deck. But Live brings Hip-Hop to its basic essentials: the beats, the rhymes and life. Nothing more, nothing less, and Skyzoo & !llmind combine to make it one of the best releases of 2010.
88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published in every Friday in the print edition of Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.