I started becoming a serious student of hip-hop music in my freshman year of college almost 5 years ago (Even longer if you count all my Eminem-obsessed high school years). I feel like I’ve evolved through many different fields of the genre…sometimes being solely into holy hip-hop, other times downloading local underground artists mixtapes, to bumping the aforementioned Em’s and Lil Wayne’s most commercial efforts. I don’t say all that to impress or disappoint you, but to give some perspective and weight to this statement: High Society’s debut wax appearance, ‘Circa MMXI: The Collective’ is the album that I have been waiting for ever since I started listening to hip-hop.
“I canvassed and all I found was fake stuff / We the only group making music with a paintbrush”
Allow me to introduce the Collective: You’ve got former Reach Record mainstay and visionary Sho Baraka, one of the most slept on emcees in the holy hip-hop game in Swoope, Grammy-award winning producer and vocalist J.R. and femcee Suzy Rock, the secret ingredient of this quartet. To get an introduction to the group’s vision and mission statement, look no further than the album’s audio intro, summed up in the quotation above. It could get labeled cheesy or a failed attempt to appear artsy if they didn’t embody it so genuinely all throughout the lineage of the project. “One Moment,” the next track on deck, has an abrasive beat that is hard to get in to right off the get go, but the listener who does will find a bevy of lyrical gold and a beat breakdown in the chorus that is gripping. The hazy “Winner’s Circle,” a minor remake of Yeezy’s We Major, is equally bloated with poetry that would stand on its own if the dreamy back beat were to fade away. Guest Proganda, a poet you get the impression of who would never describe any of his rhymes as ‘good enough’ and be content, steals the show. I’d say he kills it but that seems to be too jarring an adjective for the floating, lightweight environment of the near 8-minute portrait.
“It sounds like they want me to apologize / for getting off the boat and being colonized / Well my man thank you for the favor / I’ll try loving this dude who hates being my neighbor”
J.R. and Swoope handle the majority, if not all, of the production on ‘The Collective’ and “#High” is a delectable sample of their realized potential. It’s a momentum builder fueled by confident lyricism class and a unique sound platter of horns, bells and hints of dubstep. “devil,” suitably released as a single on Halloween, is both menacing and thought-provoking as the crew goes in against their detractors in an emotional and sonic rollercoaster that at it’s best, deserves to be labeled transcendent. ”Mad About,” arguably the most moving track on the collection, features a stripped down beat in a key that floats somewhere between minor and optimistic. The pairs of shoes that Sho, Suzy and Swoope allow us to step into on this track is phenomenal and it’s one of those numbers that, despite it’s almost six minute length, is over in an ethereal blink of an eye.
“Make room for the Misses / The crew full of misfits / That peruse your policies and hack through all your systems / Intrude your embassy and sneak food to your listeners”
Each member has the chance to go solo on a track. Sho has all the transparent bars of “Press On” to himself, on top of thick piano keys that symbolize the strength required to follow the song’s encouraging title. Fellow Hello Revolution member Jamm on the hopeful chorus amplifies what is personally my favorite cut. Suzy flexes her charisma on “Applause,” a update of a classic Swoope track that is only enhanced by the sped up beat with some beatboxing sprinkled in. I’m a fiend for Swoope’s “Take Off,” thanks mostly to the bouncy piano line that tries to live up to the same level of impact as his grammar-manipulating punchlines. Most unique out of the four though is the smoky R&B scent of “Dedicated” by J.R., a love letter made even more powerful in the album scheme because it follows two tracks describing both metaphoric and literal ending of relationships.
“I apologize to apple bottoms that I macked / I tried to eat but I dared not cleave / exploring Eve’s garden knowing that I would leave”
Speaking of those two tracks, “Y.D.L.M.” and “Before Goodbye,” specifically the latter, are as good an example as any to expound on why this is the album I’ve subconsciously been craving since entering the hip-hop arena. Musically, “Before Goodbye” is the perfect conveyor of the emotion of the lyricists: The piano line is hesitant in its melancholy while the sullen chorus is saddening without being depressing, if that makes sense this side of my headphones. More than the physical side of things, in this song and honestly throughout the entire collective, is this authenticity that makes listeners resonate even if they haven’t been in the break-up contexts Swoope and Sho rhyme in and out of.
“If we gave the innocent a voice, I wonder what they would say / Or would they be tired from screaming ‘please someone here our cry’”
It’s fitting that the album has the word ‘collective’ in its title because this is more a collection of excellent songs that an excellent album…there isn’t as much cohesion between tracks as there should be for an album of this magnitude, which only gives me higher hopes for the next collection as chemistry continues to develop in and outside of High Society. All four of these artists have the uncanny and invaluable ability to articulate human doubts, questions, optimism, energy, angst and fear…to crystallize a picture of how things currently are and how they, with ever-widening vision on the level of world changers, see the way that things should be. More than the way things should be but the way they plan on inspiring people to make the change. This is pure inspirational hip-hop. High art, High Life, High Charity is their motto, vision and worldview. This album is the exposition of all three. A near classic.
“I got a tragic word / our cultures headed for doom / but a revolution’s coming in light of that bad news”
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Sho, J.R., Suzy Rock and Swoope