I think what Wit and Dre Murray, producer-rapper duo, respectively, have accomplished in no less than two albums is worthy of the title franchise. Which is quite a feat when you consider that there two Hell’s Paradise albums are ‘nothing’ more than a smattering of lyrical and sonical windows into varied residents of the harsh, dank apartment complex of life that is something you’d expect Norman Bates to reside in from the outside in. But when you’re on the inside looking out, you try to make it as homely as you can. The first installment dropped all the way back in 2009. It was one of those albums that you look back and think “Did I really just got that for free?” (The deluxe edition can still be had for free here) Then, starting in fall of 2011, a trio of audio episodes dropped monthly that made up Hell’s Paradise 2: Mask Parade, with a promise of a concluding fourth episode. We didn’t hear much about it for a while until the entire second collection dropped seemingly sporadically this past Thursday, including the anticipated Episode 4. Read on for your TV Guide overview of what is already the top runner for album of 2012….
“It’s a marathon that can leave you jaded…some love it, some hate it…..this Life is Komplicated”
Episode 1: Life is Komplicated is personally my favorite off the project, although the newest chapter threatens to take that throne with repeated plays. Komplicated is like the opening scene of a blockbuster sequel: You know it’s going to start out with firepower that rivals all that the entire prequel contained and you know it is seeking to wow you, so the thumping music, polished effects and slick camera angles don’t surprise you. But you still love it and have a stupid grin on your face as the title flashes on the screen anyway. That’s what the re-introduction to the world of Hell’s Paradise does here. It’s a grab bag of life stories that welcome the listener in and assure them that these are the same creators that led you safely through hell last time around. Whether it’s the bittersweet nostalgia of “I Miss You” with a transcendent Kelly Kelz hook, the pseudo-sequel of “Spazzing Out” that is almost awkward in its unflinching lyrical starkness or episode fadeout “Komplicated,” where Wit steps out from behind the board to breathe identifiable bars that make you wish you heard more from him throughout The Mask Parade, those familiar with this universe will feel right at psychological home.
“And no matter where you turn it’s the same old song…where your rights are wrong…Welcome Home…”
Just like staying glued to your seat to run back the film that just succeeded in separating your jaw and your upper lip and pushing the play button right away, Episode 2: Welcome Home is a patient transition piece as it slowly puts skin on a specific character in the Hell’s Paradise universe. But you don’t really know that until the threating “Dark Knight Rises” gives way to another masterful Eshon Burgundy interlude. In running it back you’ll find bread crumbs scattered on the jagged trail. Until then, you experience a little southern smoke via “Welcome to H-Town II” (The best version out of the triplets, thanks largely to Shei Atkins 2nd half performance) and the antidepressant pill of “Switch Me Up,” made non-drowsy with a killer Swoope verse.
“There is one thing that I know that is for sure….my future is not bright…all wrong, no right….all dark, no light….Goodnight”
There is no darker chapter in Hell’s Paradise II than Episode 3: Goodnight Mr. Hood. Instead of viewing ghetto life and hearing it’s justifications in the midst of the actions, we get an entire character portrait. Wit’s beats haunt with ghostly samples and instrumentals that have no problem wavering in the air with no soul speaking over them. The foggy “Goodnight” is a classic in this universe, with Rigz and Wize sighing bars that would depress if not for the dankness of the next tracks. “HP 2.5” is Dre at his best, lyircally (This side of Episode 4) as he exposits the darkest doubts of the most troubled hearts. And just because the ending of the character saga may not shock you in “Clive Lee Hood” doesn’t mean it’s not stirring.
“You think these are fairy tales…make believe…and I am simply a Psycho…but no…”
There’s a more clear cut distinction as Eshon wearily steps up on his soapbox in Episode 4: Psycho from previous episodes. While Dre almost always has spoken in first person, you get the uncanny feeling that these concluding tracks are much more autobiographical than simple people watching. The groggy “Psycho” is as good a breakdown of Dre’s alien status as a result of salvation as any I’ve heard from another artist and the playful wordplay reminds you that there is a heart beating behind this master storyteller (I never would’ve thought anyone could get away with joking about abducting their producer since Em, but Murray easily does here). The addictive sampling on “The Help” add to the infection that Dre’s double-timed rhymes originate while “LOL Nevermind” is the softest rebuke you’ve ever heard, where Dre shakes hands with the same hand that slapped Wit and him. “Don’t Misunderstand” is chilling, thanks to the hurt innocence of the B. Reith crooned hook over a key-driven beat recipe and more of Dre’s heart in lyrics that you wonder if he ever plans on running out of. And while we may not know whether album finale “The Day” is simply the season finale or series conclusion, it does it transcendent best as a last will and testament of the past 75 minutes of music. It isn’t a cliched sitcom ending where everything is wrapped up nicely but it is an elevation above ‘paradise’ that gives a more divine perspective than any finite being deserves. It’s a bittersweet ending, but a satisfying one nonetheless.
It isn’t enough to talk about what Wit’s music sounds like throughout the project or simply quote Dre’s most clever lines as testimony to the concept of Hell’s Paradise’s second installment. Like the hardest experience in your life, you reach a point where you stop trying to explain it to people because no matter how detailed your explanation or description, unless they went through it, they just won’t understand. Lucky for you, The Mask Parade available for free (Someone needs to check to make sure that Wit and Dre know that they can charge for this stuff) right here for your own personal Hell’s Paradise experience.