Last year underground favorite C-Rayz Walz teamed up with British producer Sharkey to release a truly eccentric album in “Monster Maker,” which drew strong comparisons to Gnarls Barkley’s material. One year later and Walz is back at it again, stretching hip-hop boundaries, by teaming up with Israeli American hip hop artist Kosha Dillz for the new twelve track LP “Freestyle vs. Written.” As if this meshing of Jerusualem Zionist-meets-Black Bronx ghetto aesthetic is not a fresh new direction in its own right, they take it a step further by living up to the title recording the disc in 24-hour recording session along with newcomer 19 year old producer Kenton Da Mastadon. It’s a dangerous concept to pull off but they effectively manage to do it with flying colors.
Mastadon drops a supercharged beat right from the get go with “Unheid” that holds together with a slick percussion instrumental. The former Def Jux emcee, C-Rayz, lets the listener know that he means business when he unveils fresh lines like, “My energy and heart unto itself/my career is a testament to hustle, flow and health,” that have the same tenacity that was displayed on his underground classic “Ravipops” album.
But the real story here is how the relatively unknown counterpart Kosha Dillz holds his own with the Bronx headliner. Jewish rappers are mostly known for having a humorous slant on their music and having high-pitched, nasally voices. Kosha’s flow is not only bearable, it is downright solid and could be compared to Termanology without the Latin flare. On the title track he explains how “Freestyle vs. Written” was an idea that he thought up, so he clearly has a business-minded attitude that can bring him great success in this industry.
The concept tracks, both “Holiday” and “The Evolution of Fan,” are extremely cohesive, as if the two have been trading verses for a long time. Over a bluesy boom bap backdrop, Dillz drops socio-political bars like “Four twenty is Hitler’s birthday so why does everybody smoke weed?/ Represent the millions dead on the scene,” and “Every day a hell of a quote/Election day, we all campaigned but no one registered to vote,” on the former. This merges into a chorus that flips Goodie Mobb affiliate Witchdoctor’s classic cut of the same name. Meanwhile, “The Evolution of Fan” concisely namedrops pop culture over a frantic break beat that will entertain those interested in picking up on a barrage of references.
The tragic irony of “Freestyle vs. Written” is that for an album that pushes limits the most accessible material comes from songs that use some favorite hip-hop samples. For example, “I Love Jews” nicely reworks The Delfonics “La-La (Means I Love You),” the very same sample Ghostface Killah used on “Holla,” on the “Pretty Toney Album.” It is very enjoyable but sometimes Kosha overtakes the narrative with his Jewish perspective, as “March of the Death” speaks on the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz.
For such a young force, Kenton Da Mastadon really establishes himself as a rock solid producer with the work he puts in on “Freestyle vs. Written.” The songs feel as if they roll effortlessly off one another as almost all of them have a boom bap influence but with extra textures, clever instrumentals and vocal samples.
Against all odds; given the team up of C-Rayz and Dillz, the untested teenage producer and difficult concept, “Freestyle vs. Written” is a piece of work that emerges from the ashes. This is the epitome of progressive rap.