“I don’t wanna listen; I wanna talk until everybody listens.”
Sole. By his very name, he implies the concepts “singular”, “alone”, and “uncompromising.” If you are familiar with his rap label Anticon then you know all about his steez – esoteric lyrics over heavy beats. His biggest claim to fame to date though may be the infamous Company Flow diss “Dear Elpee” track – and the subsequent reply track that many thought would shame Sole out of rap (El-P caught Sole APPARENTLY backing down on the phone). Sole ain’t trying to be loved though. In fact, his first words on “Tourist Trapeze” couldn’t make it clearer: “Please remove my name from your rap popularity contests.”
“I’m talking to be heard, being to get seen
If you wouldn’t mind looking for someone else
Normal people are learning trades and trading tapes
and changing tastes, the strange people are making points
Connecting thoughts to make a point and we’re laughing at him
(Hah hah) Arrogant people are talking shit
Well people like me got a lot to say”
There’s something weirdly appealing about Sole’s “outsider on the inside” style. Now understand, this is not an album for your average gangsta rap or Southern bounce rap fan. That’s not to say that an open-minded listener couldn’t appreciate Sole’s lyrics or even get into the well produced beats; but this album by it’s very nature is trying to open a certain door in rap a little wider. Years ago this door cracked open an inch when KRS-One told people that hardcore rhymes could be “Poetry.” A generation in rap later, the Freestyle Fellowship attempted to prove it by sticking their foot in the door with freeform poetics that bent the rules and cliches of rap out of shape. Now in the year 2000, Sole is kicking the door straight off the hinges. Do you expect rhymes to line from one sentence to the next? Don’t listen to this album. Do you expect to be presented simple American consumeristic values like drinking, fucking, and smoking? Don’t listen to this album. Sole is on something different. If you’re already familiar with Quannum Projects, Aceyalone, or Supernatural – you’ll understand. This is far out music. If the equally jarring and appealing chords of “Famous Last Words” get you in the groove, you’ll understand too.
“Wish my sarcasm was actually sincerity but I rap
It’s what I do; all hip-hop is something I listen to
and I know what I’m not talking about, or insinuating
Disclaimer – everything I write is a diss song
This time I’m talking about the things that can’t change
We’ll always be hungry and pointing fingers
but in the end we should have been building skyscrapers”
Stylistically Sole is smackdab in the middle between Aceyalone and (yes, even though he probably hates him) Company Flow’s El-Producto. Musically the album is much harder to pin down. On the title track Alias produces an ill combo of strings, kick-drums and singing for Sole to flow over. JEL’s beats on “Center City” make Sole sound like he’d be perfectly at home flowing with Lyrics Born from Quannum. It starts out slow, changes up, and keeps you guessing as Sole and guest Why? keep on flowing. Controller7 rocks two tracks any emcee would fiend to rap on with “Dismantling of Sole’s Ego” and “Furthermore.” Sole even produces a confusing “Public Service Announcement” which has all the logic of Star Wars meets Cheech and Chong.
Sole and his label have been accused of being “too abstract and too deep,” a theory he addresses on “Sole Has Issues.” He simultaneously manages to be self-deprecating and diss the industry with lines like “thanks to all the industry parties, now I got cassingles to dub beats over.” If you had the least inclination to like Sole, it’s clever songs like this that will make you a fan.
“People are clicky and talk in cliches too much, touche!
Today I took a holy shower and washed away all my indecencies
Even sat in the sun, to try to cook up the beast in me
but it’s still there, eating away, on my people skills
But fuck it, we can build, when I’m not stressed out
and play the field ’til I’m ex-ed out of every guest list
and put on every blacklist, well
I guess that just means more names on the people I gotta diss list”
It’s really hard to summarize an album that’s this different. You’re either going to completely love it or totally hate it. If you’re looking for a rap album that bucks trends and still has heavy hip-hop beats though, this is a good start. When you dig into the rhymes, Sole can hang up there with any other rapper out today, black or white. Some of Anticon’s fans would have you believe that rappers like Sole exist in a genre totally seperate from hip-hop – not true though. Don’t let them scare you off from what could be one of the most pleasurable assaults you could unleash on your ears. Songs like “Save the Children” and “Understanding” are ill. Ill like Run-D.M.C. Ill like Scarface. Ill like Common. If you take one thing away from this review, take this – Sole is hip-hop too; don’t be afraid to try something new. The only downside of this album is that the beats, bumping as they are, are best for the headphone. You won’t make friends bouncing this on Crenshaw Boulevard, but you will expand your mind in the comfort of your bedroom.