REVIEW: Himalayan Project – The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage

Artist: Himalayan Project

Album: The Middle Passage

Label: Red Bench

Rating: 8 / 10

Reviewer: A to the L

Himalayan Project was founded in 1994 by members Rainman and Chee Malabar, while they were high school juniors in San Francisco. In the beginning they battled and busted over homemade pause tapes, but as their skills started to grow they began to put together 4 track tape collabs. In ’95 both succumbed to the call of college, with Rainman setting off for UC Irvine, and Malabar heading for Penn State. Undeterred by distance, they continued to collab, sending tapes to each other back and forth across the country.

Every artist seems to have a “day I got lucky” story, and Himalayan Project are no exception. Their break came when Rainman met up with DJ Cheapshot (from Styles Of Beyond) at his college radio station. Cheapshot liked what he heard and offered the duo some beats that Styles of Beyond had passed on. Using these beats, they developed a reputation for ripping mics and finally garnered enough encouragment to consider releasing some tracks. The resulting 4-track EP sold around 1000 units.

The next step was a move to the East Coast where the duo hooked up with Scott Koozner (who handled production for Styles of the Mountain Brothers) to record “The Middle Passage”. A nice little story, huh? Well it doesn’t mean shit if the album doesn’t come up to scratch, so lets give it the “treatment”…

The first couple of tracks are like a combination of punches to the head and gut. The opener is also the title track, and carries a mellow vibe with a warm saxaphone sample flitting in and out of the mix. The beat isn’t wasted on the emcees either – Rainman and Chee use the slow pace to eloquently explain how they got together, paying homage to their roots all the time. Chee especially captures the essence of his struggle coming up as an immigrant from Bombay, India…

” ’89 there was a line that we moved to California / Eleven years old I was an immigrant poster-child / Dilligent, broke and – forced to strive / In the course of life I’ve seen dreams thru my folks’ hopeful eyes / Most nights I hold mics and seldom socialize…”

Like I said – head and gut. The opener has your head nodding as you vibe to the laidback beat, fooling you into thinking the rest of the album is gonna follow this line… then ‘Beyond This’ kicks in. This is an uptempo banger with a distinct Asian flavour. Its a total departure from the first cut, and a devastating example that HP are comfortable with both kicking back, and going for theirs.

‘Nuthin’ Nice’ and ‘Everything’ will also go a long way towards enhancing the Himalayan Project reputation. The former is a straight up battle track, featuring some of the dopest one liners I’ve heard this year over a bouncy backdrop of noise (“I’ve been rhyming since Christ was just in his father’s pants.”) The latter is a stunning example of how simple ingredients can combine together to make a great Hiphop track – this consists of nothing but a heavy drum track, a garbled jazz piano break, an addictive sing-song chorus, and both emcees ripping the mic. Dope.

As mentioned earlier, Rainman and Malabar aren’t just about rocking mics – their intent to educate and enlighten at the same time shines throughout, but is especially bright on ‘1964’ where Chee touches on the negative effects of capitalism and greed (“dead presidents replacing the god’s your praising – Jesus? nah it’s just G’s”), pollution, and immigration. What makes this song so striking, the fact that backing up the heavy words is one of the most “folksy” tunes you’ll ever hear. Again, its a case of simplicity working – the audio backdrop compliments the topics without acting as a distraction.

Negative points are few and far between. The only track I wasn’t really feeling was ‘Universal Coverage’, where both Chee and Rainman perhaps try a little too hard to fit the “scary battle emcee” persona. Couple this with the fact that the beats on this joint are a little bland, and you’re left with the only below average cut on the album.

Sometimes I’m astounded by the quality of some of the underground releases I’m asked to review. Himalayan Project have raised the bar another notch, by producing an album that takes the good things from the world of Hiphop, blends them with the real life experiences of Chee and Rainman, and spits them out in a format that reflects the love these two cats have for their families, their cultures, and for Hiphop music as a whole. A solid addition to your collection.

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