While a good portion of the hip-hop world continues to flex its collective bravado, remains fascinated with sex, money and guns, or flaccidly attempts to address meaningful issues and ideas, social criticism is still a key component of the genre. And while there’s a lot of great MCs trying to call out the world on its bullshit, there’s no one that does it as ferociously as Sole… this guy is the Noam Chomsky of rap. And like Chomsky, Sole tends to place the U.S. on the chopping block often, attacking American elites, traditions, capitalism, consumerism, and the population at large (including himself) with biting sarcasm and skepticism.
He’s apparently been pretty busy since completing 2005’s piercing, but decidedly uneven, Live From Rome, having already released the layered soundscapes of poly.sci.187 under his Mansbestfriend moniker back in May, along with an eight track bonus disc of scrapped material originally planned as a more traditional follow-up to Live From Rome. On top of that, Sole just unveiled his collaboration with Flagstaff’s Skyrider earlier this week. And even if this latest effort doesn’t quite live up to some of his past works, it’s a definite return to form.
The self-titled Sole and the Skyrider Band debut, like his instrumental album released this year, finds the MC drifting even further from any kind of traditional approach to hip-hop. Though Sole is often noted for his experimentalism, the presence of a full band pushes mere “beats” to new heights; Skyrider provide shifting, rich canvases for Sole’s intricate political railings. And while this album may find Sole at his most scathing, like his other records, it’s lyrical content isn’t just a sum of its criticisms. Rather, he manages to intertwine his political ideas and philosophies with his characteristic contradictions, introspection, self-deprecation, pessimism, sarcasm, dark odd-ball imagery, deft word play, and stream-of-consciousness style ramblings… all packed into his distinct, off-kilter cadence. Like most works from any member of Anticon, the latest Sole album certainly lives up to his crew’s early self-labeling as “Hip-Hop for the Advanced Listener”. It grants no quarter, challenging preconceived notions of what a hip-hop album, or even what a political album, should be.
There’s a lot of standouts on this record, but check out a couple here. The closing track, “Stupid Things Implode on Themselves”, represents perhaps the most significant diversion from Sole’s previous works, yet also manages to provide a strong conclusion for the album. The song shifts tempos from near funeral dirge with its droning organ and slow, tortured violin that’s ultimately sped up and violently plucked against syncopated drums and synth strings, only to collapse back into the hope-stifling drones that open the song. Sole’s delivery is as sharp as ever, seeming to compact the emotional weight of years of frustration into just a few verses. “In Paradise”, on the other hand, seems to more immediately recall the production found on Selling Live Water (2003) or Live From Rome, but finds Skyrider subtly embellishing and expanding upon this sound as Sole paints a vivid portrait of our Orwellian present, bemoans domestic hegemony and the loss of individualism, and links American aggression to patriarchy:
In paradise, wars are invented by our fathers
In paradise, wars are invented by our brothers
In paradise, wars are invented by our leaders
In paradise, wars are prevented by our mothers…
Sole and the Skyrider Band is available now (and you can order it from Sole himself).
Download: Sole and the Skyrider Band – In Paradise