I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- there is absolutely nothing more redundant right now than punchline rap. You would’ve thought that Big L, Jadakiss, Percee P and Fabolous had exhausted every punchline and witty one-liner known to man already, but trite emcees continue to pick at the exhumed corpse of battle rap, regurgitating decrepit rhetoric that merely blemishes the legacy left behind by forefathers like Lord Finesse. Trust Toronto’s Empire to reinvent the wheel- having established a virtual monopoly on the city’s local battle scene, the Empire name is one synonymous with quality, the first installment of SARS and the collective’s full length Table Of Nonsense having served as showcases for the T Dot’s most ravenous emcees. Once again, Empire have proven this jaded asshole wrong by reinvigorating battle rap’s decaying carcass with remarkable class and finesse.
Engineered and mixed by one of Toronto’s most promising producers, Arhythmetic, SARS Volume 2 is a throaty gob of phlegm on the face of New York tastemakers like Desert Storm and Streetsweepers, an audacious middle finger to the legions of stale emcees that litter Big Mike and DJ Radio mixtapes. The sheer variety of styles on offer here are truly staggering- The Rhyme Animal’s deliberate, forcefully enunciated cadence punctuates each punchline before Talksick’s rapid-fire, dazzlingly technical style absolutely decimates the track on their freestyle. Elsewhere, Promise & N.I.F.T.Y. claim Jae Millz’ “No, No, No” as their own, playing off the Dawn Penn vocal sample with assured aplomb, Collizhun blesses “Stand Up” with his manic ragga toasting, Episode & Spit Game effortlessly match the Diplomats’ wordplay atop “Get â€˜Em Girls” while Young C comes off like Buckshot on speed atop a G-Unit instrumental. From the laconic, fluid flow of Theology III to the grim narratives of Hus’A’Lah to the labyrinthine structures of Candlestixx, there is a dizzying array of talent here.
It would be rather irresponsible of me, though, if I didn’t dedicate this paragraph to the mixtape’s true stars- squad general Adam Bomb and the rising underground favourites Scandalis and Talksick. All three proudly sport scars incurred from years of toiling in Toronto’s hyper-competitive battle circuit, each of them having won countless high profile sanctioned events around the city. This is hardly a surprise, all three absolutely mangle the tracks they are given- peep this breathtaking display by Scandalis atop RZA’s “Run”- “The city’s under siege now, each fleet keeps heat seekin’ three pounds, heat seekin’ each round/ Each week, widows weepin’ in each town, seekin’ the peace, please, beef and catch a beatdown.” Adam Bomb, unquestionably one of the city’s most accomplished emcees, mauls Freeway’s “What We Do” with his uncanny breath control and marvelously intricate cadence, spouting such gems such as “I think I’m getting sicker with age, so by the time I’m 30 I’ll be dirtier than strippers with aids.” As one of Toronto’s finest prospects, Talksick’s virtuosity is simply stunning- “Plan to set it, call your fam, let’s dead it, get your anaesthetic and a medic, â€˜cause your head is, where the right hand is headed.”
Having watched this wrecking crew tear countless new orifices in ciphers around Ontario, it is an absolute wonder to me how they continue to be overlooked by local and American audiences in favour of certain tepid and contrived New York emcees. While less talented artists like Jae Millz, Cassidy, Paul Cain and The Game continue to earn plaudits on concrete streets around the East Coast, the Empire remains obscured in the shadows, ravenous for your attention. If you would just give them that opportunity, you might discover that this record is, aside from Grafh’s The Oracle, G-Dep’s The General and the new Papoose, the very best mixtape to have dropped this year.