As Gabriel Teodros's Lovework flies at the very top of the CMJ's hiphop chart, three new local CDs have dropped. Two were produced by BeanOne, and the third by Mr. Hill. Both producers have national reputations and worked extensively with the leading local rap institutions—Oldominion, Sportn' Life, 4BC Musick. In terms of content, the new albums have very little in common; each contains a distinct system of themes and production values. One, Dyme Def's Space Music, is conditioned by street realities, the world of hustle, hunger, and hood dreams; the other, Beyond Reality's A Souls Journey, is an open celebration of the black family and the roots of hiphop culture; and the last, Mr. Hill's The Darkest Hour, is a collection of instrumentals that explore the twilight world between the light of life and night of death.
Despite its gun clapping, its dedication to thug fantasies and urban realisms, and its crass objectification of women, Dyme Def's Space Music is the best hiphop CD to hit our streets since Onry Ozzborn's underappreciated 2005 joint, In Between. Space Music's greatness is its great hunger. The rappers (Fearce Villain, S.E.V., and Brainstorm) are young and hungry, and producer BeanOne, though older and in the business since the early '90s, matches their hunger with music that is big, aggressive, and boldly immodest. Like Framework's Hello World, which BeanOne also produced in 2005, Space Music has a sound that is larger than Seattle; it's hiphop for a megalopolis, hiphop for a place that's overpopulated and never sleeps. Seattle does sleep and is nowhere near crowded. In this sense, Space Music is a work of sonic fiction; the rappers appear to us as holograms projected on the present from the city Seattle will be in the future, a distant city that is dense and consumes an incredible amount of electricity.
Space Music has 17 tracks, some of which are designed for the charts, others for more traditional headz, and the majority for both sensibilities. In all, the record is an impressive mixture of pop and hardcore hiphop.
It is nothing less than astonishing that the man who produced one of the loudest, boldest, most masculine hiphop CDs to come out of Seattle is the same man who produced one of the most tender, soulful, feminine CDs to come out of Seattle. BeanOne is the primary musical mind behind Beyond Reality's A Souls Journey. Beyond Reality is the city's top female rapper and has held that position since the mid-'90s. Her skills make no room for mistakes. She knows what she wants to say and how to say it with little waste and detours. Be it the state of hiphop, the state of the black family, the state of black culture, the state of the 206—all themes that dominate A Souls Journey—Beyond gets to the point quickly and efficiently. The CD features vocals from local soul queens Choklate and Felicia Loud, and the track that rises high above the rest is "A Souls Journey," which is inspired by the funk and mood of Stax Records. The song takes the form of a journey through Beyond Reality's life—her birth, her childhood, the birth of her children, the death of close family members. It is a testimony of where she comes from and where she stands at this moment in her life. The CD will not rock a party (for that, go to Dyme Def) but it does provide an excellent portrait of a woman who is in love with the art of hiphop.
After working with Kool Keith on Nogatco Rd., Mr. Hill, Oldominion's principle beat architect, completed a collection of instrumentals called The Darkest Hour. The beats on this CD never leave the truth of that old boom bap. They are as hard and fixed as the concrete of a city street. But above the hard, no-nonsense beats float elegant phantoms of strings, classical piano, soul horns, and whispers of those who have lost everything and long for everything. This is a sad but beautiful record, one that matches the mood of our many months with too much rain and too little sunshine.