New albums by Otis Reed, Declaime and Esh are as mind-expanding as anything we’ve seen so far this year. Otis Reed returns as a King and a G in his fourth LP, the decorated Declaime is still a young free spirit though many albums into his seasoned career, and relative newcomer Esh from the Northeast(ern Seaboard) is climbing the ranks at rapid pace.
Otis King: Return of the G by Otis Reed (Palmtree Entertainment)
With Otis King: Return of the G, Fresno’s Otis Reed follows his 2013 self-titled debut plus 2015 albums Otissy and The Mind Activation of Otis Reed AND 2016 mixtape Otis King with a career builder unlike any other. Reed may show a hood-unique sense of humor in “Woke AF” and “Taco Truck Pimpin’” and simply kick things off with coolness, in “Coolin’” and “Chill With You (Janet)” of course, but later in, the serious sage delves into racial disharmony and extremely urgent family problems that are tearing us apart and need attention. Before that, in “Why Would I” for example, we see through his stories the rough surroundings he’s risen from so we know he’s a legitimate, authentic messenger.
Reed’s discussion of sobering family issues that basically makes the album begins earlier but picks up the most speed in “Suffocating” and doesn’t decelerate until the end of track seventeen. Reed flips the light switch on how blacks are still stereotyped and uniformly profiled in negative ways, truly conveying how terribly frustrating the system is to its victims, subjects if that’s a more appropriate word. Afterward, Reed is critical of other crimes and foolishness he’s seen, especially the disintegration of the family unit in the hood.
Sadly but bravely, in “Lil Men,” Reed puts out in the open air that dynamics in the homes he’s witnessed are just dirt poor, sometimes nonexistent. He admits to a plummeting shortage of character, morals and values in his kin through “On The Low” stories, and the stone cold “Gramfather” sheds embarrassing light on fatherlessness and the ill placement of social media above both time with blood relatives and a real presence in the lives of those we’re supposed to be close to.
In a way, albeit subtly, Reed recognizes the higher societal pressures working on the poor because “Smile on Yo Face” acknowledges the difficulty folks have in holding their families together, without some of those major elements like guns and drugs involved. Inspiration and Reed’s further ability to relate to hard times germinate through “Head to the Sky” and “Growing Pains” which lead to “Black Washed (Jukebawks Remix),” a questioning song on racial prejudices and how some inflexibly box-in people of certain races and expect them to act and behave a certain way, placing labels and assumptions in the process.
Reed glues all of these loaded necessary topics together with fine exact wordplay, and the calm cruising beats made in Cali coast along as the man gets all his thoughts out in a composed relaxed manner. Reed is real, not fake. He can rhyme and flow with the best of them and he brings concerned powerful messages and love on a positive note, bringing us intimately close to his world. These are all marks of a true man and emcee, not a conjured contrived corporate rapper or anything close to it; therefore, in Return of the G, Reed puts the “G” in gentleman. Not gangster. (5 out of 5 stars)
Young Spirit by Declaime (eOne Music/SomeOthaShip Connect)
Venerable and venerated veteran Declaime, or Dudley Perkins, of Oxnard, California looks to be nowhere near hanging it up. After all these years, stays on multiple underground labels (including Stones Throw Records and Mello Music Group) and a grand sixteen albums, the comfortably conscious emcee continues to boldy go where not many rappers have gone before. Ever confident, Perkins these days opts to rep his own imprint, SomeOthaShip Connect, above all others, and though his latest LP endeavor, Young Spirit, came to fruition with the help of eOne Music, the reliable two-name rap artist has proven time and time again to be a very formidable independent artist.
Perkins lambastes and blasts criminals, criminality and the evil forces of the world as he’s done so often before but in fresh form once again, assisted by a new assortment of guests (Blu, Aloe Blacc, Saul Williams among them), an alternative score orchestrated by his partner Georgia Anne Muldrow, and of course—his conviction. He stands up tall for what’s good and right for the people and remains committed to doing right himself. Later on he goes in on his misled childhood of gang banging and seeing his supportive mom get sent away to jail and makes clear that he eventually saw the harm in his ways, or in other words the impetus that drove him onto a more pure spiritual path.
Though just one part of the song it’s in, a plug in favor of veganism and clean eating is inserted like a lifeline in “Pattie & Stokley,” and Perkins expresses a testament of love, dedication and loyalty to his life-mate in “Fantastic Fanatic,” further reinforcing his relationship commitments in “For A Lifetime.” After midpoint and past some great but lesser notable tracks comes the two part back-to-back combo of “Cop’s Ain’t Sh*t,” Perkins’ justified protest against murderous police officers that is riskily, perhaps haphazardly titled but necessary for extending a number of severe legitimate grievances.
With the best stuff Young Spirit has to offer, the end features the ingeniously conceived, perfectly executed triple play of “Misfit,” “Cake Boss” and “Check Yo Head.” The first relates the hopelessness and twisted turns of the ghetto with seemingly nowhere to go but down unless one refuses all the garbage around him or her, the second exhibits entertainers (rap acts in this case) who sell out for nasty gimmicks and stereotypes just to get rich and the third calls for us to adjust ourselves mentally and to recalibrate our cognition for proper health.
Dudley Perkins as Declaime is once more a freedom fighter in Young Spirit. In his low casual fluffy tone, he brings out in his speech all the strong progressive attitudes one must have to rise above the monotony, drudgery and wickedness in life and though his delivery is not akin to a Treach, Eminem or Tech N9ne type, his power of alternative advanced thought is liberating and something the former have not showcased to the extent that Perkins does in this album alone. For all these reasons, Young Spirit is freely and easily excellent. (4 out of 5 stars)
Darwin’s Frankenstein by Esh (AR Classic Records/Perfect Time Publishing)
Hip-hop still has its regions. For example it’s hard to replicate the sounds and accents of gritty East Coast rap all across the country but true consciousness in hip-hop knows no coast. One East Coast native, Esh (or Esh the Monolith), by way of Providence, RI to Boston, is no iron clad street hustler or bully but rather a cerebral metaphor-master who is naturally attracted to analyzing social phenomena through verse. He’s been an enthusiastic collaborator for a few albums already and with his non-joint project Darwin’s Frankenstein fresh out and continuing his smart musical trend, Esh is still proving he can entertain, educate and enlighten all at the same time.
A wise slam-jam called “Release The Hounds” handles a variety of social devastations and then self-centeredness and more specifically conceited unsubstantial rappers get their masks pulled off in “Important Boy” only to open for yet another quality gem, “Cavemen with Computers,” which is directed at beginning to dismantle our obsession with electronic devices. Esh alludes to the powerful and influential in “Believe You” and how they use force and deception to entrap the people. Along similar lines, “Earth Is Eden (To Men On Mars)” gives the speakerphone to demonstrator Esh as he warns of climate change and environmental degradation by man.
Reel feelings (pun intended) on sex and sexual anticipation are torrid and visual thanks to Esh’s lucid delivery in the sensual “Red Velvet”; the posse cut “Encyclopedia Britannica,” which features Mr. Lif and his tacit endorsement of Esh, sparkles as the guests shine like stars; and the conclusion love-song “I Got You” is the perfect close to end the album on a kind warm note. With brilliantly poetic flows and such big timeless subjects, Esh is, like his best peers, the embodiment of a true master of ceremonies, a witty wordy prophet and stylish vocal activist explaining like a pro a bunch if not all of the world’s ups and downs, in super clever fashion. (4 out of 5 stars)