The duo of Hex-One and Tek-nition combined to form Epidemic a few years ago now, and while much of their work is fairly formulaic in terms of throwback hip hop, they were getting better with each album. Last year’s “Somethin’ For Tha Listeners” was a personal favorite that saw the guys embrace more humanistic qualities to their raps, rather than the standard theme of “I’m a dope rapper, listen to my dope rhymes”. Epidemic are undeniably gifted emcees, utilizing multi-syllablic schemes and intricate flows to bring life to what is usually minimalistic production. I’m equally disappointed and intrigued by Hex-One’s decision to go alone, as Epidemic members on their own may not possess the character to hold down a whole album on their lonesome. As far as this whole underground, New York boom bap shtick goes, Epidemic do it well.
If it’s not your thing then this review is likely of little interest beyond this point, as it’s very much ‘one of those’ generic throwback records. Except, it’s not quite as forgettable as say Fel Sweetenberg’s release – Hex-One is a dope rapper for a start. He may not necessarily destroy microphones, or make you think about his rhymes, but he spits and spits and spits. And then spits some more. If you like hearing wordplay and complex rhyme schemes then Hex-One is going to find favor. “String Theory” isn’t one of those albums that are trying to be intelligent with scientific references and what not, although there’s certainly a science to how Hex-One delivers his verses. Initially I thought he was only using multi-syllabic words to get the tongue-twisting technique that’s clearly present throughout his Epidemic work, but Hex just has one of those flows that while packed with words, does feel natural. It’s never rushed, but more a nod to greats like CL Smooth and Mr Funke.
String Theory isn’t just another Epidemic project, otherwise it would have been credited as “Hex-One – String Theory”. The other half of String Theory is BBZ Darney, a producer that did turn up on the last song on Epidemic’s “Somethin For Tha Listeners” record last year. He is certainly made from the same cloth as Esco, Jesse James and 5th Element all were – a cloth that was adorned twenty years ago by Nick Wiz et al. Gritty, yet down to earth, BBZ Darney (Boom Bap Zombie Darney) isn’t the most distinct producer, and his name does let you know that he is resurrecting an older relation of hip hop (I won’t say corpse, as this style is far from dead). For the most part, BBZ does his thing and does it well, although it can get a little predictable on tracks like “Art of Rap”.
Lyrically, some may find Hex hard to digest. The barrage of bars that enter the ears can be a bit much, but there is method to the madness. You’ve got the standard street stories on “Realities”, but much of “String Theory” sees Hex-One stretching his ability to contort words in to bars, and bars in to verses. “Intergalactix” sees uMang join Hex on a track that does run with the scientific theme, seeing both emcees trade your traditional cypher-style rhymes but throwing in metaphors revolving around stars and space. It’s a simple premise, yet one that ends up being a standout moment on the album, largely because BBZ combines with DJ Tha Boss to craft a beat that’s not far off “unbelievable like aliens and flying saucers” (Big L scratched in).
Tek-Nition joins his Epidemic brethren on three tracks: “Used To Be”, “Rhythm of the Planet” and “Lucid Dreams” – all of which disappoint. It’s largely down to the strength of BBZ’s work, more than the relentless onslaught of rhymes, as he tends to blend infectious, head-nod instrumentals with harder, but less memorable ones. It is these moments where Hex and BBZ veer too far away from what works, with “Theory of Everything” sounding like a bland Army of the Pharaohs attempt, and “All Beautiful” just lacks the timeless quality of some of BBZ’s better contributions (“Currents”, “Reminisce”, “Intergalactix”). It’s not really noticeable on the first listen, but it inevitably means that this album disappointed me. There’s some dope hip hop here, but the missteps are heard louder when the formula starts to be tweaked, when that formula is what made Epidemic work.
Despite my pedantic criticisms of Hex and BBZ daring to prevent this record from sounding samey, this is hip hop that wouldn’t seem out of place sat in a CD rack alongside Das EFX or early Busta Rhymes in the mid-90s. It’s not that this record sounds dated or intentionally old school, but it fits in snugly in a period where this style of production and emceeing was appreciated by more than it currently is. While Hex-One doesn’t have a unique character that could make him stand out, even in 1995, he continues to make great hip hop without ever kicking up a fuss or trying too hard. It’s not going to move you, or necessarily be remembered by many as a stellar example of the genre, but there are plenty of fans that still crave the good old days of hip hop, and they’ll do well to top this.