Album: Lonely Superstar
Label: Uprok Records
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
“Sometimes it feels lonely. Living broke with my wife, knowing that everyone doing it a certain way is making money. Then here I am, remaining true to my artistic integrity and we’re always struggling. I stay true because I feel it’s a reflection on my spiritual integrity… but sometimes you feel like you’re the only one.”
So speaks Playdough on his position in the Hiphop biz. He’s built a well respected rep on the underground both through his work with the various crews he’s down with (Ill Harmonics, Tunnel Rats, Phonetic Composition) as well as his various guest spots on LA Symphony, Visionaries, Mars Ill, and KJ-52 joints, and yet the fame and respected he’s garnered ain’t doing much to put money in his pocket. But still he maintains, and with this album, another from the superb Uprok Records label, he hopes to both spread his name around a little more, and if possible make a little cheddar.
Heads who may have checked out Ill Harmonics on the strength of my review of “Take Two” last year will feel instantly at home with the opening track ‘You Will Listen’. Think of a track similar in construction to Everlast’s ‘What It’s Like’ – the same warm acoustic guitars run throughout – but take off his singing and replace them with Playdough dropping verbals over the Honeydrippers ‘Impeach The President’ drumloop. Its a short sharp intro to Playdough’s confident spiritual mic-style, and a superb intro to the album.
Following this comes first single ‘Seeds Of Abraham’ which improves on the opener’s formula. Self produced, its built around an playful guitar lick, a kicking snare set, and a funky bassline, with the addition of an addictive female vocal wrapped around the hook topping things off perfectly.
Playdough then goes three for three with ‘5 Cent Needleheads’. Here producer Beat Rabbi uses a memorable clarinet loop (which I think Count Bass D used on “Dwight Spitz” last year) and a set of gritty drums to provide Playdough with a strong audio platform to let heads know that its not just him in the “broke, but skilled” category – there’s a load of other talented heads in exactly the same position.
‘Clappy Valentino’ distracts momentarily, coming off as a mix of early Moby, classic Beck, and folksy Everlast, before the superb ‘Shadow Dance’ breaks the temporary slip in form. Using the same Screamin’ Jay Hawkins sample that Primo flipped for Biggie’s ‘Kick In The Door’, this song is straight up hype. Its plain even from Playdough’s delivery, as he trades lyrics with guest LMNO, that the bouncy backing track has made him move his vocals up a notch. Too dope.
The title track follows, and despite being dope in its own right, sits uncomfortably between the “get amped” flavour of ‘Shadow Dance’ on one side, and the Pink Floyd-esque steelo of ‘Freedom Fighters’ on the other. ‘Lonely Superstar’ is perhaps just a little too mellow for its position on the album, and may have been better placed elsewhere.
For example, after ‘Simple 1’. Y’see, its equally chilled out, if not moreso. Here even Hiphop takes a back site, with this track becoming more of a cross between spoken word, and trip hop, with a tiny hint of um…. Wyclef. Things quickly get back on an even keel though, as insert ‘Ode To An Escort’ speeds up the pace again, before ‘Verbal Tea’ (although admittedly slower in tempo) drops the Hiphop flavour back into the mix.
From there, its a straight up jam session to the finish, with the last four or five cuts all appealing in their unique ways. The standouts amongst these however, ‘Mr Mike R. Phone’, ‘Soul Brothers’, and ‘Palm Sunday’ all deserve individual mentions. ‘Mr Mike R. Phone’ occupies the same ground as Nas’ ‘I Gave You Power’, though telling the story of life as a mic device, rather than as a gun. As Playdough spits, he’s supported by addictive acoustic licks, and rippling chimes, which add spice to the final product, topping it off perfectly. ‘Soul Brothers’ meanwhile brings Mars Ill into the mix, via the addition of Manchild on the mic helpout. Freddie Bruno’s simple, sparse production arrangements mesh perfectly with both emcee’s lyrical styles, complimenting and pushing the focus onto what they’re saying rather that how the beats sound. Perfect stuff. Finally, ‘Palm Sunday’s’ title already reveals Playdough’s Christian background, but as with many Uprok artists he chooses NOT to preach to the listener, but rather gently “suggest” (if that’s the right word!) that doing things by the good book is a pretty good way to go! Of course the music will always help to get these messages across, and here Playdough hooks up a start/stop guitar strummer’s dream and combines it with a beautiful organ roll with fantastic results.
So, is this kid from small-town Texas finally destined to start getting some ends from his undeniable skills? Lets hope so, for two reasons. One – if he finally sees some results from this, then it may encourage him to continue to write and produce, resulting in some more dope output. Two – if he does stick around, his skills are gonna force other indie emcees to tighten up THEIR shit, or be left behind, resulting in more dope output. Either way, the listener is gonna be the winner. So go on, pick this up, and make yourself a winner. Uprok strikes again.