In the interest of full disclosure you need to be aware of the following fact: I have been actively involved in the promotion of Random’s album “Language Arts Volume 1,” having actually been given advance access to promotional materials from it and allowed to use them to create a video showing off what you get along with music for your purchase – a video game styled after the Mega Man classics of days gone by.
Now I was intimately aware of the potential for bias on my part reviewing an album I was actually licensed to promote, so initially I ceded coverage of this release to a fellow staffer. That proved to be problematic as a major laptop meltdown left him unable to contribute write-ups until a new computer could be procured, and difficult to reassign given I had already given all of the rest of the crew their own promos to do. As such the album bounced back to me, and an understandably curious Random wondering “Is there a review coming? I’m just about ready to drop Volume 2 on the masses. Sooner would be better!” He didn’t use those exact words, but nevertheless I promised him I’d put my potential bias aside with a pre-review disclaimer and attempt to get it done myself.
“It’s the illest game I ever seen
It’s like it dropped straight out of my wildest dreams
My regime is full of killers who dyin to get the scrilla
And if you are not familiar we ridin and peelin ya
The realism is out of control
Shoot a dude close up and the blood stains your clothes
And oh! It’s modeled after where I live
So when I gotta get away the safehouse is my crib
Ya dig? I played the game for seven hours
and I’m only six percent through – I ain’t tryin to hit the showers”
There are multiple layers to “Language Arts Volume 1” once you start peeling, but on the surface Random is a mild-mannered teacher by day and champion of the microphone by night. He discovers that his students are becoming addicted to a video game which has the dangerous side effect of turning them into mindless zombies, capable of horrific acts of violence without knowledge of their actions, and he vows to fight this scourge by any means necessary. Songs like the hauntingly beautiful “City of Angels” illustrate the conundrum Ran is faced with – wanting to see himself and other succeed but knowing that like Icarus many will fly too high and plummet to their demise.
“Everybody on their way to get paid
Chasin an escape but really chasin the grave
Prayin for the day that the son confesses
that you all God’s, just like His son suggested
City of angels, we love those things
But nobody here was taught, how to work they wings
Dr. Drew on the 1-2, rehabilitatin minds
In these last day and times, I ain’t just sayin rhymes
Literally take ’em to school
With a promise, but not the 40 acres and mule
Somethin that’s honest – I seen a lot of cats fall from grace
Roll snake eyes, prayin for the larger stakes
But in the pen, three strikes you in
Livin a life full of sin right to the end”
It might be surprising to know that on an album that’s only 10 tracks and 30 minutes long that Ran has cameos, but none of them detract from the overall product and in fact all make solid musical contributions. MC Frontalot drops bars as nerdy as his cohort on the self-produced “Wake Up!” DN3’s bass on “The Constant” is among the album’s deepest, and Ariano and Punchline share the production with him for just under four minutes. The one that’s really out of left field is Riesgo and DN3’s “Classroom Blues,” where I’m introduced to a rapper called Dr. Awkward for the first time, while he and Ran play the role of students who would rather be gaming than staring at a blackboard.
In closing I should offer this additional thought – this album may be 10 tracks long, but it’s not actually 10 songs long. Take out the intro and outro by Kyle Hebert and that’s 8 – take out the “EOM Remix” of “Language Arts” and that’s actually 7. And for seven songs, offered in a myriad of different options (bonus poster or not, hard copy or not, autographed editions or not) you can find one that meets your needs if you’re a fan. The Amazon.com download is only $5.99 so even for a limited amount of material, it’s less than $1 a song, which seems like a very fair value. At the end of the day I can say this with or without bias – I’m hoping that “Volume 2” will be much longer and deeper in content – though the fact “Volume 1” comes with a video game does help make up for it.