The Aztext and E-Train, Who Cares If We're Dope? Vol. 1 Album Review
By Dan Bolles [12.15.10] (Elevated Press Records, digital download) When the Aztext’s last effort, The Sacred Document, rocked local ears in 2007, the trio stood at the head of the class in terms of both Vermont hip-hop and, arguably, local music in general. Since then, as the talented trio has maintained a low profile, Burlington’s hip-hop scene has undergone something of a renaissance. Where local hip-hop was once defined by a handful of disparate artists making ripples independently, the scene has jelled into a community, with several artists seemingly poised to make a cannonball splash. The prevailing wisdom was that the Aztext, widely acknowledged as the cream of the local crop in 2007, would be the first to make the leap. Almost four years later, and with a dynamic series of releases on deck for 2011, the group may finally make good on that paused promise. Exhibit A: Who Cares If We’re Dope? Vol. 1.
Rather than release a single full-length, the Aztext are taking advantage of a shifting paradigm in the music industry and debuting the album online as a series of “episodes,” each helmed by a different producer. It’s a savvy move. One, by dropping a new EP every two months, the band remains relevant long after the newness of a single release might fade. Two, by enlisting a variety of producers, the Aztext can highlight their signature versatility without sacrificing the continuity crucial to a cohesive album. Three, the EP is just friggin’ sick.
Vol. 1 was produced by longtime friend E-Train, of Vermont-born and San Fran-based hip-hop outfit the Loyalists. But he’s not the only notable guest. The lead cut, “Time Is Just a Glare” features VT expat Wombaticus Rex providing a cunning counter to Learic and Pro’s smooth, cerebral flow.
“Just Like That” highlights the Aztext’s greatest asset: the contrasting interplay between MCs. Learic balances Pro’s high-flying linguistic acrobatics with a measured yet aggressive cool.
“Rainy Day” is signature Aztext. Smart, subtle and incisive, it reaffirms everything we love but had perhaps forgotten about the group during their recent hiatus.
The EP closes on “Waiting,” which features Pro unleashing tongue-tying lines with startling ease over a sinewy half-time bounce.
It’s a shame we haven’t heard from the Aztext since George W. Bush was president. But Vol. 1 alone is worth the wait. Who cares if they’re dope? We do.
Who Cares If We’re Dope? Vol. 1 is available at iTunes, eMusic and Juno.
The EP starts off with the hard-hitting "Just Like That." E Train channels 9th Wonder doing the Bomb Squad, with layers upon layers of soul samples creating a sonic collage. The Aztext lay out their mission, with Learic rapping:
"I'm on a mission to Give hard-working people something to listen to [...] I simply find the best way to say the truth Music is eternal youth I use it as further proof [...] Cause we just build on what came before us Predecessors who might have said it better Why are we here? We're all tired of the shit we hear"
They lay it all out in those bars. They make the kind of hip hop they grew up listening to, and use the mic to speak truth. There's no phony gangsta posturing, just honest rhymes. MCs Learic and Pro trade rhymes like Run DMC or the Beastie Boys. With their back-to-basics rhymes and E Train's crate-digging beats, its as if Puffy, Southern Rap, emo rap, or Kanye never happened. The Aztext live in an alternative universe where mic skills are more important than image, and where hip hop stayed firmly rooted in its original sound and aesthetic.
Given that context, it's interesting that "Time Is Just a Glare" uses the metaphor of hip hop as a prison, stifling creativity with its rules. "Conformed for too long/I want to move on," raps Pro. "Reinvent myself/New Artist/New Song." It's hard to tell if he's reacting against the current trends in hip hop that he wants to avoid, or the traditional sound that have become the Aztext trademark. On "Just Like That," Pro raps "Lately I'm terrified because the music doesn't speak to me," which further highlights their disconnection from the contemporary rap world.
The Aztext's response to this existential crisis of where they belong in the hip hop universe is to go as hard as they know how. "Rainy Day" sees them laying some introspective rhymes over melancholy soul, and they rap double time on "Waiting," It's the best song on the album, and not surprisingly was the track that inspired them to get back into the studio in the first place.
If you are a fan of traditional boom-bap, do yourself a favor and check out "Who Cares If We're Dope?" It's a welcome return from VT's finest.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10