Every once in a while there comes an emcee/producer tandem whose pairing makes you wonder: why haven’t these guys been together before? “Razah’s Ladder” is one of those LPs, a blend of ethereal production and vivid lyricism that, although not perfect, leaves you eagerly awaiting (and hoping for) a Round 2.
The first track, “Elevation,” introduces the concept for the album. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob fell asleep in a barren desert one night and dreamed of a ladder on which angels were ascending to and descending from heaven. Hell Razah appropriates the notion for himself and complicates the idea by asking, at the end of the track: “What exactly is this ladder? Who exactly is this ladder?” These questions set the tone and lead into the title track, a short song whose horns burst with energy over a pounding beat. There is more than one gem on this album, but this one may shine the brightest. Right out of the gate, Kingston and Young God (the members of the production duo) make it very clear that their more sinister work on “Blue Sky Black Death Presents: The Holocaust” was far from a complete picture of their talent.
The next track, “The Cube,” is a complex piece which has as many sonic layers as a ladder has rungs. Hell Razah tries to match the sound’s complexity, but is not quite able to accomplish the daunting task. The chorus goes:
“If I gave you this jewel
Would you go and sell it back to the fool?
I was told by wise men
That the blacks was jewels
So that made me strap up with tools
This is Razah’s Rubik’s Cube”
In fact, sometimes Razah’s lyrics can be Rubik’s Cube-esque. He aspires to the complexity of a Killah Priest or an Immortal Technique, but has not quite developed that level of lyrical dexterity yet (he certainly has potential); sometimes, even he sounds a little confused by what he is trying to say. This results in a slight imbalance between the often-perfect beats of BSBD and the verses paired with them. This happens on “The Cube” and several other songs, but fortunately Razah’s superior flow and breath control prevent him from getting absolutely devoured by the music.
Indeed, the production from Kingston and Young God is not so much present as it is consuming. The two have perfected the art of sampling, and can tailor their sound to any mood. The music is atmospheric, but the duo also has the ability to be astonishingly subtle: “Most Merciful” sounds like an impending thunderstorm that never quite breaks. Their versatility is exemplified in the difference between a song like “Poor Righteous Dreams,” a tune about ascension from the hood, and one like “Stairway to Heaven,” a hauntingly melodic tune that complicates that ascension. The instrumental “Sun of Man” is breathtaking.
Most of the time, Razah’s image-filled lyrics are enough so that the song does not fall apart. However, Razah is really the undercard to this event: the preeminence of BSBD is calculated (after all, their name precedes Hell Razah’s even on the cover of the album). The aural ladder that these two paint reaches to heaven, and even if Razah is a few rungs below, it is still a climb worth making.