It’s a full-time job to not get jaded when you’ve been reviewing albums for over 15 years and you get one press release after another to declare the artist within the next great thing to happen to music. Take the ScholarMan bio for example: “ScholarMan is not only focused and determined, he is a spiritual individual. […] ScholarMan has proven and continues to prove why he deserves respect in the game.” Lines like that send the needle on my BULLSHIT-O-METER right off the scale, past the red zone and into “this thing is broken because ScholarMan’s score is off the scale.” As far as I’m concerned you can’t say you’ve proven you deserve respect when in all likelihood you’ve been in rap for a cup of coffee. Of course the one sheet claims that ScholarMan has been “a strong force in underground hip-hop” since the 1990’s, but before this press release, I sure as hell hadn’t heard of him. Nevertheless he deserves a shot like anybody else regardless of the hype, and on the “Soul Purpose” album ScholarMan will get one. The album opens with “Last One Standing”:
“My tongue dangerous, spit venom of cobra
Body and brain stop your breath it’s over
Full dose ya, you ain’t a soldier
Just a chick that’s lookin for new closure
Where your manhood dude, where your backbone
Quick to pull a gun, son get your scrap on
Rough real like you’re tough with skills
Small time, I’m the heavyweight deal
Y’all cats just poseurs, chicks that bend over
Again I’m a cobra, venom your clique’s over”
ScholarMan is self-produced and on “Last One Standing” that’s to his advantage, as the track is a simple but effective repeated horn break with just enough oomph to the drums and bass. You won’t mistake ScholarMan for Alchemist, but you won’t confuse him with an untalented bedroom wizard mixing MySpace MP3’s on his laptop either. Unfortunately the rhymes almost derail ScholarMan’s momentum. His vocal tone is acceptable to the point you can picture him opening for a bigger act on tour in the local venue, but the wordplay is middling at best. It’s always dangerous for a lyricist to admit he’s repeating himself and the minute ScholarManADMITTED IT on the track by spitting the same line twice and saying he did it “again” my mind immediately turned off on his rap. You don’t read these reviews for me to be kind when it’s not deserved – you want to know if ScholarMan is going to waste your time. When he spit the same rap “again” he commited the ultimate sin – wasting MINE. It’s not as if he was winning awards with generic rap cliches about dudes being bitch.
On “1 Man, 1 Soul Purpose” ScholarMan digs further into the realms of cliched underground rappers by declaring his virtuous hip-hop nature, not spitting “that watered down, mainstream stuff yo.” The problem ScholarMan is that watered down mainstream stuff from 50 Cent and Kanye West sounds better than yours. Here’s how ScholarMan opts to “keep it real” for you:
“Check the archives, lyrics in my database
I love hip-hop, it’s not about the paper chase
Not about the gimmicks, it’s not about the movies
Not about your clothing, not about your groupies
It’s ’bout blood flow, my people and the love of music
About my talents and gifts and how I choose to use ’em”
Congratulations ScholarMan, you’re only the 8,562,913th artist to declare yourself too underground to care about making anything other than dope records. I’m glad to know you have a nice middle class job and a house with a well watered front lawn too; clearly you’d have to be living good since you’re not concerned about selling records or getting paid. I’m with you on not wanting groupies though – venereal diseases are a bitch. In all seriousness I’m sure ScholarMan’s credentials are legit, but even his own bio notes that both of his parents worked (a police officer and a school teacher) and that he came from “a dedicated, strict and focused household.” Love and discipline made ScholarMan a good man, even a righteous man, but it didn’t make him an exciting man nor a hungry man. His raps don’t seem to have the passion you’d expect from someone serious about making their name in hip-hop.
You don’t have to grow up poor or come from a broken home to be wild nice on the mic, but you do have to find some attitude and display it on the mic. ScholarMan lives up to the name by being a scholarly man – he just seems too polite and politically correct to really shake up the world of music. The one area where ScholarMan shows any attitude is in his beats, as “Correct-ION” has a symphonic aura of attitude and “My First Seed” is soulful enough that it crosses through and makes his normally passionless rap sounds heartfelt and convincing. The problem is that ScholarMan desperately wants to connect with audience that by his own bio’s admission would like concious, positive hip-hop but positive rappers are a dime a dozen and boring ones even more common. If you’re going to say something positive, you can still be self-confident and even a little bit arrogant about it in the process. Talib Kweli and KRS-One aren’t dope just because they’re positive, it’s because they aren’t afraid to put their attitude in your face and tell you that your negativity is BULLSHIT. ScholarMan should keep working on the beats, rededicate himself to being positive without being boring, and come back with improved rhymes.