Remember back in the day when we all united under one groove and everyone could agree that Spoonie Gee was the top wordsmith in the game? Neither do I. Truth be told, the Hip Hop landscape in 2007 is as diverse as the political spectrum in the debate on Iraq entering the new legislative year. On one side there’s still plenty of die-hard underground cats who wouldn’t get within ten feet of a major release even if it was dope (with the possible exception of Ghostface, the ultimate uniter); on the other, there’s just as many crass young playas who only fuck with the Jay-Zs and the Jeezys of the game. Ultimately, most of us fall somewhere in between. But there are a few things we as a community of participants and listeners can still agree on, despite the combined impacts of time, corporate meddling and sheer diversity of expression on a once (seemingly) collectivized culture. First, Hip Hop still values entrepreneurial spirit in all its forms: get it how you live it, make your own way, and if the majors front, drop it indy. This do-it-yourself spirit permeates the game, from underground acts building homegrown fan bases through live shows to hustling former drug slingers pumping mixtapes to create street buzz. In addition, we still want authenticity, or “realness,” a decidedly more slippery concept. As in all forms of expression, but especially those centered in words, the old adage “write what you know” holds true here. For example, the Clipse subject matter would be repulsive to many if it weren’t delivered with such true-to-life assuredness and authenticity. Likewise, we can also respect a group like Ugly Duckling for spitting about writing rhymes, having (good, clean) fun and gently exploring their faith because, hell, that’s who they are. One final thing we can all agree on: Quality. This is an even trickier concept than “realness” to define, but it seems that many of us just know it when we hear it. Case in point: most of us can agree that Dilla’s “Donuts” is simply a wonderful record, but there’s probably just as many different reasons for this assessment as there are people who enjoy and respect it.
So in 2007, this is the unofficial triumphant for universally dope Hip Hop: fiscal/artistic independence, authenticity of expression, and Quality. This is what we can all agree on (except, perhaps, for the baffling millions who will continue to reward the greedy legacy-tarnishing bullshit of another series of terrible and sad Tupac releases). And this is what you will find on “EV Records Presents: Everything,” a simple but rock-solid collection of songs unified in their sonic and ideological vision, yet diverse enough to keep full-length freshness intact. Much of the talent featured also have a financial stake in the label and its studio, built from the ground up in Chicago over the last 8 years (Producer Copperpot now runs the label, while producer K-Kruz runs the studio). Out of that specific city but appealing to anyone with a sense of taste, the comp uses many MCs associated with the label and culls together beats from the four in-house producers of EV Records, who each get 3 to 4 joints in which to shine. And shine they do.
Those four producers give the mic over to a variety of new and old, local and national talent, and (amazingly for a comp) no one disappoints. The MCs found here seem to have been handpicked because of their skill, of course, but also (and more importantly, perhaps) because of their ability and willingness to create a genuine tone of voice. In short, “Everything” is full of great vocal turns, from Royce Da 5’9 verbal slaying to open things on “The Mic” to Chi-town native Psalm One’s cool-as-ice turn on “Things I Do,” to the numerous messy and heartfelt examinations regarding relationships (a rare thing indeed in Hip Hop). So even with standard production, it would be a satisfying platter of true-to-life MCing; but again, the record really works as a unified text because of its beatwork. Each producer has the ability to craft beats both infectiously rowdy and laid-back smooth, while keeping it under a unified framework of timeless boom-bap, jazzy sample riffs and a commitment to neither overshadow nor underwhelm the vocalist. Together, Earmint, Overflo, Copperpot and K-Kruz lovingly craft sonics at turns ominous, soulful, and joyous, seemingly borrowing from the best board-men from the Chi (Kanye, No ID) and elsewhere (Preemo, Pete Rock, early Dilla) without aping any of them. There are no individual accolades to give out here, as the entire record is one big highlight. And in the age of I-pods and downloadable songs, such a unified and complete product is a precious find indeed.
Anyone from the Chi, or even the Midwest, should be proud to call the talent of EV Records one of its own. If they’re not making national noise by the time 2008 rolls around, it’s probably for the same reasons my favorite TV show “Freaks and Geeks” got cancelled: failure of the masses to appreciate brilliance. Don’t sleep!