Filed under: Album Reviews
It is entirely coincidental that this second installment of recently slept on releases features another one producer/one MC outfit, but it is perhaps indicative of the success that the formula can bring to those who eschew current trends within hip hop. The Scenic Route dropped on Rawkus (not a bad year for the label…) at the beginning of September, and although it garnered a brief fanfare from a couple of disparate corners of the internet around the time, it amazes me that an album of such quality fell victim to the fierce and ruthless momentum of the blog scene. As with Travel At Your Own Pace, The Scenic Route is a work that clearly engages with boom bap aesthetics, but it does so in an exciting and engaging way that feels remarkably original: if you’re sleepin’, consider this a friendly wake up call.
K-Murdock’s production style has developed substantially since the crew’s first release, a well-judged blend of punchy drums and richly textured samples that gradually mutate as each track progresses. His flair is demonstrated by the incredibly spacious quality that his soundscapes possess; the result is a sensation of the beats almost wrapping themselves around you, permeating all of the available space in which you dwell. ‘Square 1′ is one of the tracks in which this quality is most fully realised, a truly beautiful composition that demonstrates K-Murdock’s production style perfectly. The combination of organic sounding samples with electronic touches manages to achieve a satisfying balance, and it provides the beat with a modern twist that feels right at home when punctuated by the aggressive drum track. ‘Aim High’ is another of my favourites, a seriously jazzy number that is propelled forwards by its energetic drum track whilst maintaining a smooth, laid back vibe through astutely chosen samples. Both are fine examples of the delights to be found here, and they demonstrate K-Murdock’s skill at combining a range of sample sources into remarkably coherent end products that still bang.
Raw Poetic’s contribution is also significant. A relaxed, conversational style is the perfect match for K-Murdock’s production, and he is skilled at weaving together a range of images when constructing his narratives that give his rhymes serious depth. He’s also able to switch up his style when the beat demands it, and his lyrical gymnastics on ‘Between Earth And Sky’ prove that he is no one-trick pony. Unfortunately for Raw, I find that really my focus lies in the beats on The Scenic Route, although this is as much a result of my own personal preferences as anything else: his performances on the album are as accomplished as you’re likely to hear this year.
It’s not all perfect though, and there are a couple of missteps. The electronic element to the songs can prove overbearing at times, the most fitting example being ‘Pops Said’, which feels a little flat when compared with the lusher textures to be found elsewhere on the album. Still, there is very little here that could be defined as categorically skippable, and a sense of consistency and variety is successfully maintained throughout.
In a recent review in Hip Hop Connection, Hercules Rockerfella (yea, I wish that was my name too) commented that what is saddening about Panacea’s sophomore outing is that it is unlikely to find a wider audience outside of the hip hop community, as its potential fanbase are still ‘too busy blindly collecting J Dilla paraphernalia’. This is a real shame, because it is exactly this brand of modern hip hop that I would feel proud to be representative of the contemporary culture. The Scenic Route is soulful, beautiful music that deserves to transcend the confines of genre: cop it.