Buy Yonas "Proven Theory" on DJ Booth You know what people who read hip-hop album reviews...
DJBooth Album Review
You know what people who read hip-hop album reviews love talking about? The definitions of scientific terms. (Hey, I’m here to give the people what they want). For example, anyone who paid attention in 8th grade science class should know the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. A hypothesis is an unproven idea, a guess, but a theory is as close to absolute truth as we can get in this world. “I bet blowing on that Nintendo cartridge will fix it,” is a hypothesis. “Gravity pulls all objects toward the ground“ is a theory. YouTube dances are hypotheses. Making quality music is a theory. The Shop Boyz were a hypothesis. Yonas is a theory.
In truth though, it’s a little more complicated than that. While there’s no doubt that the Bronx representer’s skills are far from a guess, it remains to be seen if Yonas’ musical blend can truly succeed in today’s constantly shifting musical environment. At the very least he’s given us a hell of an experiment in the form of his new album The Proven Theory. While pop influences in hip-hop have become increasingly common in recent years, Yonas is unique in his dedication to blurring the line between pop and rap. His insistence on making music that simultaneously exhibits a scholar’s knowledge of hip-hop and a truly universal appeal and outlook is something that few others have ever truly attempted.
As blended the songs on The Proven Theory are, frankly I need a way to organize this review, so we’re going to take a look at both ends of the album’s spectrum, starting with the more pop oriented material. If Theory has one song I could hear getting spins in hip-hop households, hipster households and every home in between its Shy Kidz. Producer Sean Divine, who handles beat duty on the entire project, crafts a bouncing yet deceptively layered beat that at times is pure electro-pop, particularly on the back end, but as easy as it would have been for Yonas to echo the beat’s lightness in his lyrics he chooses instead to delve into some seriously deep material. There aren’t many who would rhyme about suicidal thoughts over a radio ready beat, and there aren’t many who that could pull off a song like Life Ain’t Easy. Showing that he can pull of a semi-sung hook when the situation calls for it, Life is unapologetically uplifting, but unlike similar tracks that rely on mistake simplicity for optimism, here we get a bright horizon and lyrics worthy of a pad and a pen: “The beautiful thing about seeing through this perception / is it unifies us as people are reinvents our reflection / so when we look in mirrors we are filled with acceptance.” Think it over. I’ll give you a minute.
As I said before, the album never breaks down this cleanly, but if we were forced to bust out our label gun, Proven Theory has no shortage of more traditionally rap-oriented cuts. The enjoyably ironic Stupid Brilliance finds Yonas breaking out some of his more aggressive mic work on the album, occasionally sounding like he’s channeling the spirit of Pharoahe Monch. It’s a similar story on Y’all Know, which provides him an opportunity to break out his more liquid flow and punchlines, though the hook is pure catchiness, and Stand Out’s darker overtones hints at a rapper who carries much more pain in his rhymes than it may seem at first. It’s not “just” rap, but it’s rap, and it’s nice. No doubt about it.
Ultimately what Yonas wants isn’t easy. He wants to rhyme so dopely, even on pop tracks, that the hip-hop heads are forced to recognize, and he wants to sound so accessible, even on rap cuts, that the pop crowd can’t dismiss him as just another rapper. For the record, the aptly named Radio Flow balances these two impulses perfectly. Can it be done? Can Yonas be the kind of musician whose audience is truly the world? If I knew for sure Nathan S. Records would be a billion dollar enterprise. (Note to self: come up with a better name for my fake record label.) But just because no one’s truly done it before, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. If anyone can move his music from a hypothesis to a proven theory, it’s Yonas.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/28/11
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