I know why there’s never been a major rapper to come out of Culbertson, Montana. Culbertson...
DJBooth Album Review
But Vegas? There’s no rational explanation for why Sin City has yet to produce a nationally important emcee. Yes, hip-hop fetishizes the “real” while Vegas is the epitome of artifice, but some of the game’s biggest stars aren’t exactly strangers to the art of illusion. (Cough, William Leonard Roberts II, cough.) And while the millions who leave McCarran Airport poorer and drunker than they arrived may only know Vegas as the Strip, there are nearly two million people living in Vegas and only a fraction of them draw a paycheck from a casino – and that was before the recession crippled the city’s economy. A city soaked in both struggle and success, money and poverty? A city whose core mission is to entertain? Sounds like a breeding ground for hip-hop success to me, and yet……
I’m not saying Marion Write will be the artist that puts his city on the proverbial map, the game’s far to complex for a guarantee like that, but I am saying that he’s in the best position I’ve seen yet. Write’s new album Illustrated Example is the work of an artist that not only has talent but a vision, who not only has skill but the work ethic to manifest that skill. Even better, Illustrated Example doesn’t sound like an album made with hopes of blowing up. It sounds like an album made with hopes of making a dope album. And if the blow up comes after that, all the better.
Even as the interwebs consolidates its power over rap, the radio can still put a rapper on. But while radio likes to eat up easily digestible catchiness, substance isn’t a complete stranger to the airwaves, which gives Radio a fighting chance at earning spins. S.B.’s balanced beat layers stabbing strings and atmospheric synths over a driving percussion line; or to put it more simply, Radio’s catchy, and while Marion delves into relationship territory on the mic he doesn’t pander to the “ladies”, instead laying down the story of an actual relationship. Even more easily enjoyable is Toast to the Life, which doesn’t hesitate to pop bottles, the slowly unfolding I Love It and on the flip side of the same coin How to Fly, the album’s most openly “f**k you I can rap” offering: “Jon Travolta these youngins and rip they face off.” While these aren’t tracks that will have everyone and their grandma dancing at the next family wedding, unless that grandma has some dope taste in music, they are tracks that anyone capable of recognizing quality music should recognize immediately. What more can you really ask for?
Illustrated Example certainly has some easier entry points, but at its heart it’s a musically serious work. After all, you’re talking about an album that includes the purely orchestral R.A.S. Interlude. Write’s not afraid to get heavy and he starts packing on the weight on Slow Down, a darkly kinetic offering featuring another man not exactly shy about exhibiting some lyricism, Skyzoo. Even more sonically adventurous is Level Seven, a constantly shifting track that finds Marion setting his sights on a better life while simultaneously wary of the pitfalls of that life. And then there’s bonus cut The Sunlight, which without exaggeration is one of the more haunting songs I’ve ever heard. Rap has been too afraid to tackle the tragedy of 9/11 on such a deeply personal and painful level. It takes a real kind of courage to make a song like Sunlight, and a true commitment to artistry to include it on an album like Illustrated Example.
I won’t pretend to know enough about the Vegas hip-hop scene to declare Illustrated Example the best album to come out of Sin City lately, and if I could predict which artists would be able to make the leap to nation stardom I’d be President of Def Jam instead of writing rap reviews. But I do know this; Marion Write’s proven that Las Vegas is a city with something to say – now it’s only a matter of convincing the world to listen.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Feb 09, 2012
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