Album: Never Say Die
Label: Coffee Grind Media
Score: 8 / 10
Reviewer: Dax-Devlon Ross
Not too long ago the all important question facing the hip-hop consumer was whether the album they were about to spend $12.99 on contained more than two to three decent cuts. You knew about the €œsingle €, you knew about the guest appearances, and you knew you could usually bank on one hidden gem somewhere near the end of the album. The best you could hope for the rest was that it would grow on you. The emergence of the mix-tape, the CD burner and now music on demand in the five years have all driven record companies and artists to deliver more complete albums to market.
The next step in the music €™s maturity will be the consistent creation of albums that aren €™t just deep in cuts, but that have complete balance and follow a vision from start to finish like some of the great jazz and soul albums. We know it €™s possible – P.E. has done it, Tribe has done it, Dre has done it, the RZA did it with the first generation of Wu-Tang albums, and De La Soul has been doing it for years. These artists needled a fine thread through song after song in order to create an album, not just a selection of really good songs.
If there is one criticism of “Never Say Die” it €™s that its 14 tracks feel much more like a musical collage done over a period of time than it does a total €œalbum €. Now, considering the overall €˜bumpability €™ of the LP this may not pose much of a concern to you. In fact, if you €™re in the mood for something new and interesting to attune your ears to, then Creature and beat-maker Fred Ones just might have what you €™re looking for. From the opening track, ‘Our National Anthem’ €“ a lyrical street sermon with synthesizers and an ill drum kick, to catchy trumpet and keyboard-infused songs like ‘I Ain €™t Lied Yet’, all the way to the eerie chants and sinister organs on ‘There U Have It’, artist and producer display the creative courage, and confidence in one another €™s abilities to push beyond the boundaries of hip-hop €™s increasing regionalization in order to make songs that truly represent and celebrate the innovative and eclectic spirit of hip-hop.
As a lyricist Creature holds his own, but as a master of ceremony he is rare because he knows how to use his voice. He does not rely on one style of delivery to carry him through, to be his signature; rather, he allows for his jazz and gospel and even his rock €˜n roll roots to reside in his music. Moreover, Creature lets you into his inner thoughts. He €™s not selling a dream or a lifestyle he €™s not living. He doesn €™t mention a car, a crib or a piece of jewelry the whole album. On the other hand by album €™s end you feel like you know this guy. He €™s funny, he €™s crazy, he €™s angry, he €™s resilient, he suffers, and he isn €™t ashamed to share any of it with his audience. On what will undoubtedly be regarded as the highlight of the album, a densely layered Mayfieldesque ballad entitled ‘Tomorrow €™s Alive’, Creature beautifully narrates the tragic story of a kid €™s troubled childhood cut short by drugs, insanity, sexual abuse, and homelessness; still, its tone, its rhythm, is soul, even its title, all suggest a steadfast optimism about life.
Never Say Die €™s quiet riot is head-nodder produced by Rob Sonic called ‘Push N-Shove’. The rugged drum beat, haunting synthesizers and gritty New York City slanguage of Reno, 4Ron and Gab Gacha match awesomely with Creature €™s explosive hook, €œPush N-Shove/Push N-Shove/ To get to the top of the game gotta do that €. Other compelling cuts include ‘Better Man’ and ‘Whut U Know Bout Me’, two songs that address the issues of identity and self-acceptance; meanwhile, the muted Mike Ladd produced Learn 2 Swim is perhaps the album €™s sleeper.
In his own defense even Creature concedes that the album is all over the map. “Never Say Die” doesn €™t follow a theme, nor is there an easily decipherable sound. There aren €™t many radio cuts here nor will you be wowed by the wordplay. However, what it €™s got in the way of creativity, wit, consciousness and grit makes up for all of that, and then some.