Album: Cali Quake
Label: Uprok Records
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Blah, blah, blah… Uprok Records… string of amazing releases… Mars Ill… Tunnel Rats… can they keep the streak going… Christian rap that still sounds good…
Yes folks its another review from the Uprok Records label, and rather than rehash all the feelings I have every time I sit down to peep an album from these guys, I thought I’d quickly summarise it for you as shown above. Got it? Good…
This time around, its the turn of Tunnel Rats member Raphi Henly to go for dolo. A resident of Los Angeles and part of a talented family who are all involved in “the bizness”, he first hooked up with the TR clique in 1993, and hasn’t really looked back, appearing on both the crew’s debut album on Uprok, as well as the acclaimed “Stop The Music” joint by crew members Macho and Elsie (recording as New Breed), and Sev Statik’s album “Speak Life.”
Kicking off with a short quake warning intro, the album’s first proper track, ‘Connect’, soon follows. Also the first single, ‘Connect’ is a strange blend of Hiphop and dub, which features Raphi’s high-pitched flow over a heavy electro-tinged beat. Confident and cocky is the order of the day here, and although at times it does sound that he’s straining just a tad, overall Raphi does a nice job. The following track continues in a similarly mechanical vein – ‘Welcome’ has an almost techno-ish vibe, with stuttering beats, computerized choiral choruses, and a “this-is-how-a-machine-spits” chorus. Its a little off-the-wall, and not something I could see myself coming back to, to be honest.
‘Then And Now’ brings things back to a comfortable “Hiphop-on-Uprok” style. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Blake Knight had a hand in this production – his trademark acoustic guitars are all over this, and give the track an enjoyably warm feel. It’s also noticeable that over traditionally “normal” Hiphop styled beats, Raphi certainly sounds a lot more comfortable… perhaps an indicator to leave those staccato beats in the studio?
Certainly ‘It Goes Down’ shows that staccato beats aren’t the only thing that Dert has in the locker. The beat here is disgustingly off the hinges, coming off as an incredibly bouncy cousin of Beanie’s ‘Roc Da Mic’, allowing Raphi and guest Wordsworth to rip things lyrically – “I’m the reason your corpse asked to divorce your breathin’.” Sickeningly superb.
The dusty beats and soulful hook of ‘Foolin’, the graphical story-telling of ‘Life Surprises’, and the Eminem-esque flow Raphi exhibits on the sparkling ‘Street Chronicle’ are all major high points here, but unfortunately there are equivalently low points too, with the all-over-the-place ‘Rollin’ With The Punches’, the stuttering ‘Stop-Look-Listen’, and the Anticon-styled ‘The Right Way’ all scoring high marks in the skippable track category.
Sometimes its good to be contradictory, as Krs-One will tell you. So I have no hestitation in changing my opinion of Raphi over Dert’s more mechanical beats when I hear ‘Beat Battle.’ Why? Well, what starts out as a snappy Tribe Called Quest jazz snapper, shifts tempo, morphing into a drum’n’bass stomper, which Raphi expertly negotiates, maintaining an expert flow throughout. Its an amazing example of his skills and flow, and certainly deserves props.
‘Let Go’ brings back some more of those dazzling Spanish guitars (Blake Knight again?), and features Raphi interacting with an un-named female’s sassy vocals. It’s a nice change of mood after the frantic ending to ‘Beat Battle’, and the vibe carries through to the end of the album, with the next track ‘Wiggle’, dominated by a piano that screams out “smoky jazz club”, and the final track ‘Better’ mellowing things out with a buttery vocal hook and some Roots-ish production.
This is a perfect example of an artist trying to fit too many different looks onto an album. Yes, its cool to experiment with various styles, but I feel that by dropping three or four of the weaker tracks on here, you wind up with a slimmed down fighting fit album, rather than the ever-so-slightly bloated feel this one has at present. Yes, the skip button does get rid of that mid-album paunch, but trimming the audio fat could have made this one unskippable throughout. Dietary imagery aside, its a good album that could have been great – but still one that is worth your while checking out.