If Boston’s ever going to make it onto the mainstream hip-hop map, Akrobatik’s not going to be the one to do it. In the last decade Bostonians have celebrated the seemingly impossible, as the Red Sox reversed the curse, the once lowly Patriots became a dynasty, and Celtics general manager/crackhead Danny Ainge pulled off the Kevin Garnett deal. Yet while nearly every Boston sports team basks in the national spotlight, Beantown’s hip-hop scene remains decidedly underground. You know what? F**k the spotlight, maybe that’s the way we like it. (In the interest of full disclosure, …
DJBooth Album Review
(In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a full-blooded Bostonian, hence the use of the the term “we.” I also reserve the right to make references only Boston heads will understand and write Yankees Suck repeatedly. Sorry, that’s just how it’s gonna go down).
With the possible exception of Washington D.C., no major urban area has been more overlooked by mainstream radio than Boston. Akrobatik is not going to change that, and I’ve got an album full of evidence to back it up. The Dorchester native’s latest effort, Absolute Value, is a wall-to-wall lesson in the art of hip-hop, full of rawly intelligent lyrics over completely un-catchy beats. In other words, exactly the kind of album that has radio execs reaching for their garbage cans (except the good folks at 88.9). Absolute Value is thoughtful, it’s uncompromising and it’s dope. That’s right, he’s the literal opposite of Gucci Mane.
Akro may be under the radar of mainstream America, but Absolute Value’s long list of highly prized features proves he’s underground’s most well-known unknown rapper. None other than the ever-present Talib Kweli stops by for some verbal sparring on Put Ya Stamp On It, an intensely energetic track that can only be appreciated with the volume on 10. Stamp’s appeal is due in no small part to some deceptively intricate production from the late-great Dilla (who’s slowly becoming a producers’ version of Tupac with the amount of post-death releases), but the real joy is listening to Akro go line for line with a Reflection Eternal era Kweli on the mic. The same goes for Be Prepared, a track that serves as a full-fledged Little Brother re-union; unless they recorded the track before the break-up, in which case it’s a sad reminder of how dope Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder’s mellow production genius was. Akro more than holds his own alongside such underground luminaries with a slow-paced flow that swings for the fences like David Ortiz at a Mariano Rivera fastball.
As long as we’re using sports metaphors, let me back up. I’m obviously hopelessly biased, but even I can admit that Akrobatik isn’t one of the ten-best rappers alive. He’s more like the Tedy Bruschi of hip-hop; he’s not going to amaze you with lyrical athleticism and flash, but you can always count on him to deliver when the game’s on the line. Take the title track Absolute Value for example, a cut that’s simply three minutes of unapologetically ruthless battle rap. There aren’t many MCs who could drop better rhymes than “master this/flow that be enticing many bachelorettes/got the brother’s wildin’ in the crowd like they had Tourettes,” but there are a select few (Kardinal Offishall comes to mind). On the flip side is Kindred, a black power track that has Akro adopting the first person perspectives of everyone from a runaway slave to a man stranded on a rooftop during Katrina. It’s the kind socially conscious rhymes guaranteed to make your neurons work, and exactly the kind of rap Lupe Fiasco does so much better. So he’s not one of the greatest of all time (yet), the mere fact that he can drop such different styles with equal skill proves he belongs among rarefied company.
One more thing before I sign off: Akrobatik’s been accused of being “preachy”, and tracks like Rain and Front Steps show that Absolute Value’s not afraid of a little education, but is that such a bad thing? I’ve listened to preachers spit sentences that would have Jay-Z taking notes and watched sermons that have the crowd moving more than a Wu-Tang concert. When you think about it like that, the line between a rapper and a preacher is pretty thin, and Akrobatik ultimately uses Absolute Value to showcase how supremely comfortable he is in both roles. Oh, and by the way, f**k A-Rod. That was for my Boston peoples.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 02/20/08
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Put Ya Stamp On It ft. Talib Kweli" (2008)
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