Artist: The Escape Artists
Album: Plot Against Theme
Rating: 7 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
“Do you know what free association writing is?”
“It’s when you take a pencil in your hand, and you take a piece of paper and you start writing”
– sample from ‘Without I Thought Mind’
One of my pet peeves with a lot of hip hop that has come out in the last 5 years or so, is that it’s been far too happy. Not that happy is something that doesn’t have a place in modern day hip hop – it’s just that hearing the same beats in major key over the same lyrics encouraging you to party it up, over the same ass thumping bass can get a little monotonous after a while. Maybe that’s why the underground exists – to provide that more introspective and darker alternative. Regardless, the problem with much of the underground is that combining oftentimes – obscure lyrics with dull beats is a disastrous combo.
Have no fear though, because The Escape Artists are here to save you… well, at least on the beats side of things.
Out of the 15 tracks, plus one bonus that you’ll find on “Plot Against Theme”, there are exactly 3 that won’t have your head snapping back and forth constantly. The rest of the album is a masterpiece and a perfect tutorial on up and coming crews on how to make great ‘underground’ sounding beats.
From the griminess of the openers ‘Permanent Grinn’, and ‘Attics’ to the INCREDIBLE production talents of a producer who up to this point was unknown to me (Jani5 on ‘Meeting of the Minds’, ‘The Story of Tomorrow’, and ‘One Man SeeSaw’), darkness pervades this entire LP – in a good sense.
Other tracks like the Trex-produced ‘Monkee Skulls’ rock in a more traditional sense, with down tempo beats and liberal use of scratches, which in an album like this is a breath of fresh air.
Liberal usage of dirty drums reminiscent of vintage RZA when he was dope, combined with cleaner sounds like soaring strings and flute samples makes “Plot Against Theme”sound familiar while still taking that sound and expanding on it
Which is the perfect lead-in to the major issue with this LP in my view. The beats, while very near perfection, overwhelm everything else. Of course, this is merely a taste thing, but all of the MC’s on the LP, save for Aamir on ‘Meeting of the Minds’, are on some bastardized son of Aesop Rock flow and lyrics tip but with a little more sense thrown in. Meaning instead of taking 3 months to figure out what’s going on, it’ll only take 2.
Amusingly enough, this very point is brought up in the aforementioned ‘Without I Thought Mind’. Although there IS a market for the abstract lyricism exhibited here, I think that The Escape Artists would be better off toning things down JUST a touch… for all us non-free-association types.
If you like Aesop Rock or El-P, or Anticon, this is DEFINITELY a sleeper album of the year candidate for you. If you don’t, the beats should be enough to keep your interest. All in all, a nice release that misses the mark by just a little bit.