Earlier this year Patrick Taylor gave a positive review to Has-Lo’s “In Case I Don’t Make It” CD. Quoth Patrick: “There are pockets of absolute heart-breaking brilliance on this album, and although Has-Lo isn’t the most dynamic rapper, he’s great at painting a vivid picture with a minimum of words.” With that kind of praise sticking in the back of my mind, it intrigued me both as a critic and a hip-hop head that Has-Lo would give away his new “Illegally Yours” EP for free. Even at only five tracks long, one could hardly argue with a free download if it contains “heart-breakingly brilliant” hip-hop music.
“I had a dream last night, Soul Clap was in it
Came through and listened to a song that we finished
Left it in the crib and we ran in to get it
We looked at the picture, a newborn was in it (What?)
I was shocked and amazed to see
Then it changed and the face in the frame was me!
Looked down, in the crux of my arms, an infant
What is it like to love someone in an instant?
… Gave me the chills
This soul to keep is makin me feel
more complete than keepin it real…”
“How Do You Feel” certainly fits Patrick’s description. The metaphor of Has-Lo’s first verse could go either way and that’s what makes it so sharp. A newborn could be a stand-in for how much he loves giving birth to a great song, or a great lyric could be a stand-in for the joy of raising a child to be more than what it was at conception. It probably goes without saying that there aren’t many hip-hop artists out there today who can make a song this resonant and profound to the listener, but then again in an era of rappers who dedicate their life to “trapping” it’s worth saying anyway. The vibes wouldn’t work so well though if Has-Lo didn’t have a good flow, and his Illadelph stylings are a pleasantly dusty journey over the beats. Even though he’s capable of providing his own instrumentals, guests like Odin Smith step in to give their flavor on songs like “Dedication”:
“A wise man only bets when there’s money to earn
Assembling a deep thought into a couple of words
‘Valhalla’ CD bumps, I contemplate change
Sick of seein mad work sucked down the drain
For one ounce of fame what will people do? Point of view
Documented in the interview, with the underground
city based, independent, rap magazine
My words hit your ear, then your brain catch a freeze
Nuttin you remember in the game be resemblin this
My lyrical print, be like a symbol of strength”
It’s a trip to read Has-Lo’s own notes about “Dedication” and see that it was recorded back in 2004, when in fact it sounds as good as anything he or anybody else would put out in 2011. To me that suggests people have probably been sleeping on Has-Lo for a long time. A couple of these songs like the Danny Diggs produced “Perfume Trail” are mad short (2:20) but like that old GZA cliche goes, it’s better to keep it half short and twice strong. The classic R&B and Common Sense samples in the song set off Has-Lo’s story nicely, and as with so many of his lyrics, it’s a metaphor that you can easily read as meaning more than one thing. Has-Lo’s songs don’t just give you a pleasant moment to listen to, they cause deep reflection on meaning.
At just over 15 minutes in total, “Illegally Yours” takes almost no time to download and less time to listen to than it takes to watch the Bones Jones vs. Rampage Jackson UFC fight this weekend, and yet you’ll be engrossed in every minute of it. When Has-Lo says he’s “Loved By Asians” that’s just shorthand for the song’s full concept, which is that he’s loved by people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds everywhere. For many rap artists that would be a bald faced exaggeration, but in Has-Lo’s case it seems entirely on point.