Wheew…after a spending a solid five days with The Left’s “The Gas Mask” ruling my Ipod and car stereo, I can finally breathe! “Let’s start it like this son” (c) Raekwon, many of you may recall my first exposure to one of the “torch bearers”, not just for the Detroit Hip Hop movement (along with 14KT, Black Milk, Marv Won, etc.) , but the future of our music as a whole, Apollo Brown. Let me give you a brief recap as to how my name association with this Red Bull “Big Tune” finalist began: I visit my favorite local sneaker spot (not quite so much lately with my recent move) in Little Rock at least once a month, Rock City Kicks, usually upon my entrance, my ears are trained to hearing a lil’ MF Doom, maybe some tunes from the Justus League camp (Little Brother mostly) and maybe some Jay sprinkled in for good measure. However, in the early stages of last winter, my ears welcomed the hard bass knocks and sample heavy tunes that blasted from the boutique’s speakers. After scrunching up my face like Craig Mack for nearly five tracks in succession, not yet inquiring just who in the heck was nearly giving me a valid case of whiplash, I began to put a name with the beat (for lack of better wording) when the vocal sample “ah, ah, ah, ah,ah…” predicated the thumping drum break that also supplied the backbone for the Eric B. & Rakim classic “Mahogany” (the drums from Al Green’s “I’m Glad Your Mine”). The track was indeed the second half of Finale’s opener to “A Pipe Dream And A Promise” (which I’d been bumping like it was going out of style when it first dropped), “The Departure”, which aside from what may be my favorite track from 2009, “Paid Homage”, was the fiercest production on Finale’s solo debut.
So, after recalling the production credits from the Finale album, I asked Corey (the store’s owner) just what album where these ridiculous beats from, in Corey’s heavy Arkansas accent he replied: “that’s Apollo Brown maaan, I thank the album is called “Skilled Trade”. Needless to say, much to my delight the instrumental LP was offered up as a free download for all the hardcore beat-heads like myself. I couldn’t make the 45-minute trek back home to scope out “Skilled Trade” quickly enough. From that day forward I’ve been a fan of virtually anything that has Apollo’s name associated with it, to include Apollo’s “straight to Itunes” “Make Do”, which in my humble opinion is even more of an improvement from the groundwork that was cemented with “Skilled Trade” (click to DL).
Now, let’s get to the good stuff : With Mello Music Group’s newest signee Apollo Brown behind the boards, emcee Journalist 103 (whom some may recall was part of the Detroit group “Mountain Climbas” ) and DJ Soko on the “zigga ziggas”, the three have connected to form The Left. The first effort from the trio, “Gas Mask”, is one of 3 (!) projects that Apollo has a hand in for 2010. Aside from “Gas Mask” one of the other projects that I’m most looking forward to is Apollo’s collaborative effort with Boog Brown under the alias UPS (which will be released under the MMG/Mello Music Group umbrella, home to Oddisee, Diamond District, Dudley Perkins, Kenn Starr, etc.), their album tentatively titled “Brown Study” is due out in April/May of 2010. Apollo blessed me with an advance listen to “Gas Mask” this past weekend, and lemme’ just say, when you get a product that’s as solid as “Gas Mask” is, it makes the task of composing a review for an album just that much easier.
Apollo mentioned to me that when The Left opted to create “Gas Mask”, they wanted to go with a more gritty, hard drum, static-filled sound, production-wise. A sound that is definitely lacking in today’s hip hop. Journalist 103, a relatively unknown emcee to me prior to this release, delivers a no-nonsense, straight to the point delivery that aims at delivering a viscous rib-shot to all fake, phony emcees that flood the underground and mostly the radio airwaves. Throughout much of the album I kept reverting back to Lord Digga’s repetitive statement that could be found on Masta Ace’s “Slaughterhouse”: “Death to the wack emcees/DEATH TO THE WACK EMCEES”! I mean, Journalist 103 doesn’t just scratch the surface calling out the falsified, he makes it a point to bury them, especially on tracks like the haunting “Battle Axe”, as well as the horn-filled title cut. The marriage was perfect, as Journalist 103′s aggressive, pull no punches delivery meshes seamlessly with Apollo’s sample-heavy, soulful yet at times eerie production. While at times the pure “wow factor” that the majority of Apollo’s beats encompass is undeniable, throughout “Gas Mask”, Journalist avoids being completely overshadowed as do contributing artists such as Finale (who makes a stellar appearance on the melodic, pulsing “Caged Birds”), Guilty Simpson (the ill lyricism we’ve come to expect from the man responsible for “Ode To The Ghetto” doesn’t disappoint with “Reporting Live”), Invincible (who’s scene-stealing performance can be found on one of my favorite cuts from “Gas Mask”, the head-nodder supreme, “Statistics”) and Marv Won (who pops up on another “creeper”, “Real Detroit”). Hell, it was even nice to see Rawkus 50 alum-Hassaan Mackey (STOP SLEEPIN!! We made you aware of this cat a long time ago!) make a welcome entrance on “Gas Mask’s” strongest track, “How We Live”.
The album is straight boom bap with political undertones. Strictly hip hop in it’s rawest, purest, most stripped-down form. No fillers, no preservatives, no bullshit, no disappointments, no wastage…not a single lick of “fast-forward” material. While The Left are still shopping “Gas Mask” to labels, one thing’s for certain: if I were an A & R, Label, etc. I wouldn’t waste a single minute, “Gas Mask” WILL be one of the stronger releases that you’ll hear in 2010. MARK MY WORDS, I’ma look like a genius, trust me (c) Serch on “Gas Face”. While Apollo informed that the version that I have isn’t yet sequenced, “Gas Mask” played out just fine for my exquisite taste, and this album will absolutely do damage to your trunk! Yet, album’s such as this can make our job as bloggers somewhat difficult, as I’ve been shying away from many of the albums that have leaked/released last week that I should check out, simply because I just can’t get this album out of my CD player/Ipod! Congrats to The Left..you three have a true heat-rock on your hands!!!! Finding a label/shopping for a deal, should be the least of your concerns, a product this fresh will end up in the palms of someone who knows what the hell they’re doin’…believe it!