Album: Word Perfect
Label: Drop Zone Records
Rating: 6 / 10
“Why do they have to shout all the time?” was what my dad used to say back in the day whenever he was within earshot of my collection of early nineties hip hop. And truth be told, people like Cypress Hill, LONS, Redman, London Posse and KRS One did do a fair bit of shouting; it €™s all part of the boom bap merchant €™s eternal struggle to be the “livest MC”. Glasgow-based emcee Eastborn, formerly of the group Thoughtz Of Mortalz and a familiar name on the Scottish scene, is obviously settled on taking up the struggle going by the material on his debut LP “Word Perfect”, which is a sonic conveyer belt of pseudo-maniacal shouty battle rap.
The style of Eastborn €™s flow is such that “Word Perfect” sometimes seems like a test of endurance for the listener to see just how much verbal abuse they can take. Aggression is obviously his main concern on the mic – each verse is spat out ferociously, with saliva spraying and face turning red, but unfortunately while the raw energy of his frantic verbal histronics may electrify on stage, it doesn €™t really convert itself into a particularly exciting record that well. Whereas seasoned microphone pugilists like Busta Rhymes or KRS One can naturally blend their raps with the beat and translate the aggressive bravado and power of their delivery into excitement for the listener, when you hear Eastborn on a track, he €™s just sort of : there. What €™s baffling is he confounds this problem on two occasions – on both ‘Ruthless’ and ‘Red 6’, the vocals are altered, in the case of ‘Ruthless’ presumably to sound demonic, and in the case of ‘Red 6’ presumably to sound like he €™s phoning in the vocals from “behind enemy lines”. Actually in both cases all it does is remove most of the power and bass in Eastborn €™s voice, and just results in him sound like more of a non-entity than usual. On a few tracks he also sounds less at ease with the beat than he should be, like on the awfully titled but very nicely produced ‘Terror Mind Glide’, where he sometimes desperately speeds up to fit his words into the bar, resulting in occasional sections getting slurred and being rather unintelligible ; a problem which is even more worrying when you consider I €™m from Glasgow and so much more at ease with a strong Scottish accent than I fear many other listeners will be.
While it may seem at times like Eastborn €™s unique style of delivery is trying to make it as hard as possible to listen to him, those who persevere and absorb the lyrical side of things are unlikely to be disappointed (while unlikely to be tremendously impressed either). The tried & trusted generic punchline-based method is very much in evidence, but luckily Eastborn €™s take on it is far more interesting than most of its tedious practitioners. Uniquely British punchlines like “your style is weak like Jimmy Shand €™s accordion / I drop vowels & consonants like my name was Carol Vorderman” and “tell Louise Woodward to bang her head to this” may be formulaic, but they are entertaining. Unfortunately, basing his verses around the punchlines means he has slight problems filling up the rest of the track. Occasionally he just opts for some dull filler lyrics, or some very dodgy lines like “trying to make me slip like dancing on black ice with plimsoles”. Some of the tracks have him carry a theme along with his relentless chest-beating to provide more substance – on the ugly techno mishmash of ‘Ruthless’, the theme is science-fiction space battles with a cheesiness to rival Buck Rogers, and on the monstrous ‘Red 6’ (which uses to good effect that always welcome 1-2, 1-2 heavy bassline style, most famously used on Afu-Ra €™s ‘Bigacts Littleacts’ and Mobb Deep €™s ‘Cradle To The Grave’) Eastborn puts on his GI Joe soldier costume and rambles about being “fired up from the explosion” and breaking down defenses and suchlike. (which he neatly alludes to his struggle to put out good hip hop).
But the recurring motif of mental instability that tries to put a pseudo-psychotic slant on his mic personality is by far the most embarassing ingredient in Eastborn €™s hardcore battle rap concotion. Lines like “I will never submit to this and nor will I” and some extremely stupid “evil” guffaws (think less Syd Barrett, more Power Rangers villain) are nothing but flies in his ointment, which he already he has enough of in his natural flow without adding any more. But nevertheless, the punchlines that do work work well, the lyrics are mostly sharp and reasonably intelligent, and he drops some refreshingly original lyrical concepts from time to time. The flow may be tiresome, brutal on the listener €™s ear rather than brutal on the “target”, and peppered with minor flaws, but overall Eastborn €™s verbal onslaughts turn out comfortably above average. And his pairing up of his own solo raps with adept turntablism from DJ Switch, Krash Slaughta and DJ I Cue is definitely a plus point.
However, it €™s when Eastborn steps away from more intense, aggressive stuff that this album is most pleasant. ‘Return Of The Olmec’ is reminiscent of early Massive Attack with its murky, bass-heavy beat and Kim Wilson €™s atmospheric vocal, and features interesting lyrics by Eastborn himself where he slips in a multitude of references to celestial and mythical phenonema. There doesn €™t seem to be much of a point behind it all, but it €™s rather good nonetheless. The only other three tracks here with a theme other than merciless verbal conflict are ‘Way Of Life’, and the “bonus track” ‘Cross Country’. ‘Way Of Life’ is quite enjoyable both lyrically and musically, but it €™s a bit forgettable – the ‘Way Of Life’ in question is predictably enough hip hop, and neither Eastborn or guest Big Div have anything particularly mindblowing to say about it. It €™s the same story with self-explanatory ‘Inner City Lullaby’ – good, but lacking that special ingredient. ‘Cross Country’ is a different matter altogether however. It features Disorda, Krash Slaughta and Mista Defy, and the subject matter can be pretty much worked out from the guest list and the title. Disorda and the two rapping Glaswegians dwell on hip hop €™s collaborative spirit, and of course slip in some customary boasts and threats, while the production neatly caters to the styles of the emcees involved – Disorda €™s relaxed flow is matched by steady throbbing bass and a breezy piano loop, but the beat quickly morphs into heavier drums and a more driving, dramatic piano loop when Glasgow steps in the door, first in the form of Krash Slaughta €™s wonderful scratching, then with Eastborn and Defy €™s urgent, demented raps.
Eastborn also achieves success when he pairs up his OTT posturing with human beatbox Psylent V, and with nothing, on ‘Box Fresh’ and ‘Freestyle Frenzie’ respectively. When Eastborn €™s frantic, breathless rhymes collide with Psylent V €™s frantic, breathless hits and scratches, the result that you €™d think would be a chaotic mess actually turns out a calculated, inspired masterstroke. ‘Freestyle Frenzie’ is Eastborn without the burden of an instrumental, so there are no slurred bars and no beat for him to fail to gel with ; in fact the freedom from having to stay in a constant rhythm allows him to do some neat verbal trickery.
This is not a bad record by any means – the production is mostly deserving of praise despite one or two clunkers, and a fair amount of what Eastborn himself brings to the table in terms of lyricism and overall concept is of reasonably high quality. But he obviously wants his schtick to be a crazed, terrifyingly loud, egomaniacal microphone pugilist, and it doesn €™t matter how many references to insanity he puts in, or how loud or aggressively he spits his rhymes, he needs that special quality that takes the energy of his delivery and engulfs the listener in it. No doubt Eastborn has this in a live setting, and perhaps on a packed posse cut with other rappers to play off of, but on a solo record there seems to be that special something missing, that natural vitality and excitement that makes all successful crazed, terrifyingly loud, egomaniacal microphone pugilists like Busta Rhymes, Redman or Rodney P dope.