Throughout the years, Chicago label Galapogos4 has become a household name in the hip hop scene as they’ve churned out stellar artists one after the other. Any underground hip hop enthusiast should be familiar with the label as I have been a long time follower ever since I first heard Typical Cats in 2000. With this in mind, Qwel was definitely a standout emcee in the group and remains an all-time favorite of mine so you can envision how ecstatic I was when I received Qwel and Maker’s third full length album of “Owl.”
Qwel and producer Maker create music that seems effortless. The collaboration brings together a unique, unmatched sound and has only grown stronger since their four horsemen/seasons project of “The Harvest” and followed by “So Be It.” They now take on a “full-fledged endeavor,” further exploring their talents, sound, and artistry in “Owl.”
“The Owl watches and grows wiser. As we became more aware of our environment, we gained new perspectives. This album is our way of reconnecting with everything that surrounds us,” clarifies Maker. Qwel takes this idea to another level as he incorporates his Chicago flair and turns his own personal experiences into his musical muse. In “Letting Life Pass By,” Qwel shows how easily dreams and aspirations can pass you by if you push them aside. He helps us to realize our endless possibilities in life and even criticizes himself for not reaching his full potential.
In another life lesson, Qwel provides some advice for today’s youth in “Word to the Wise” as Maker laces a grimy, funk beat in the background. Qwel commences the track with forethought as he explains how children in their early stages are no longer grounded and how he doesn’t trust schools/teachers to instill this knowledge. His guidance reaches far as he says:
“I hope you grow to be smarter than me, homie
I got gold if you want it
And I’m a tell you like he told me
Beg for knowledge, dog
Because there’s nothing as precious
Count your blessings when reflecting…
All the worrying in this world ain’t going to change tomorrow
But he who increases his wisdom also increases his sorrow”
In addition to being an example to the youth, Qwel instills his knowledge to future emcees in “Cookie Cutter” as he shows amateurs how his success has risen from his own skills and talents. As the track begins, Qwel provides the basics to emceeing and encourages an inexperienced emcee to continue his abilities. I suppose Qwel doesn’t divulge all his emcee secrets here, but this amusing track shows his expertise in the art and his love for lyricism as he says:
“Like understating baby raping
Highlighting specific syllables
Act sincere and rapidly rap weird in cyclical
Is that a word?
Act misunderstood or flip political
Compare yourself to what you’re not
Like similes, but literal…
Insert pop reference here
Something, something ‘Brangelina'”
Qwel and Maker mix in some other poignant tracks such as “Gin River” which describes a female in search of her alcoholic father, but falls into the same cycle as he did and “Holler” that shows who you can and cannot trust. Also, in the album’s first single “El Camino,” Qwel literally takes us on a ride through his past, present, and future. Maker does some amazing things with these tracks as his subtle beats mix old school funk with modern hip hop sounds to create a genuinely unique resonance.
Qwel and Maker’s collaboration is a rare union between two talented souls of hip hop. Qwel’s ability to fully express himself in the presence of Maker’s beats is felt throughout “Owl” as he as emcee is able to let loose. There are few emcees that have reached the potential of Qwel’s complex, fluid lyricism while Maker only complements Qwel’s talents. This dynamic relationship is a true representation of Chicago’s finest.