I’m just gonna come right out and say it: Stereotype is one of the best albums of the year. A testament to the power of live instrument hip-hop, Blitz the Ambassador's latest effort is intelligent without being pretentious, complex without being inaccessible and rooted in hip-hop history without being stuck in the past. Now I can already see the hate mail coming: “How could you say this album is better than (insert person’s favorite rapper here)? You’re a joke. Get a new job.” First, if I can flip the script for a moment, hi haters. …
DJBooth Album Review
Perhaps most importantly, I can testify that Stereotype’s relistenability score is sky high (you better credit me when you start using “relistenability” in sentences). Plenty of albums are great, even monumental, but after an initial listen they rarely find their way into your speakers again: Eminem’s Relapse comes to mind. But some albums are more like friends that are always stopping by. These are the albums that always get pulled out on lazy Sunday afternoon, or a Friday night before you hit the club. Only time will tell if I’m still bumping Stereotype years from now, but all signs of a highly relistenable album are there.
Just take the album’s lead single Something to Believe, a track whose heavy yet fresh orchestration could serve as a blueprint for the entire album. Over a soaring string section punctuated by horns and a chorus straight out of an old school James Brown track, Blitz recreates the hope and belief that pulled him through a childhood in impoverished Ghana. It’s the same story on Breathe, an up-tempo cut that has to be played at full volume to be appreciated. On Breathe, Blitz also speeds up his usually deliberate rhyme pace, proving to doubters that he can truly spit when the situation demands it (more on that later). From the bluesy Dying to Live to the explosive Prelude, Stereotype’s heart beats so loud you could swear it was alive.
Ultimately, Stereotype is as much a product of superb production as it is of Blitz’s rapping. Courtesy of Blitz’s long time production partner Optiks and instrumentation from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Stereotype is more orchestrated than produced, interweaving flamenco guitars and saxophones into a tightly cohesive whole (much like Amy Winehouse’s classic Back to Black). Now there will be those who say Optiks deserves more credit for the album’s success than Blitz, and they certainly have a point. Blitz’s rhyme style is straightforward and deliberate, rarely venturing into metaphor or denser wordplay. It’s a style that works to powerful effect on tracks like the militant Ghetto Plantation, but feels overly heavy on the relationship-focused Lover’s Remorse or the quasi-nostalgic Remembering the Future. Still, trying to separate Blitz’s lyrical work from the music is a futile and flawed endeavor; it’s like trying to figure out if it’s the mix or the frosting that makes cake so delicious. They’re both nothing without each other.
That doesn’t mean Blitz is by any means a weak rapper, just that his strength isn’t smooth lyrical flows. By contrast he’s at his best when he’s in storytelling mode, like on the intensely beautiful Home. On Home, Blitz tells the story of an elderly man in Katrina, a soldier in Iraq and a Mexican immigrant, all on the verge of death, bringing their stories to life with gripping drama. On the similar tip Blitz goes into absolute beast mode on the extraordinary Nothing to Lose, a track that sharply veers from an eerily ambient introduction to almost brutal verses, all while Blitz lyrically personifies hip-hop. It’s my favorite track on the album, and a great example of Stereotype’s willingness to explore new musical ground. If I’m being overly elaborate with my praise of Stereotype, it’s because I already have a suspicion that it will be sadly slept on, largely because of its lack of obvious commercial viability. So if I can use whatever little influence I have to get even a few more people to listen to this album, I will. When you make an album like Stereotype, you deserve some love.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 08/3/09
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"Hands of Time" (2007)
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