The title of “Built to Last” is both an affirmation and a reminder of Boston-based emcee Akrobatik’s presence in hip-hop. It’s possible some people had forgotten about Ak, but six years is a fairly long time to go between albums, and that’s how long it has been since “Absolute Value” dropped. That’s not to say Ak hasn’t been busy in the interim – he was lecturing on the college circuit, dropping singles, performing and dealing with some medical issues (more on that in a minute) but for some people if you don’t have a new album in stores you haven’t been doing anything. It’s a fallacy of the music industry in general and fickle hip-hop blogs in particular – everyone is so focused on “the next big thing” it’s easy to skip the little things that are just as important and more worthwhile.
It’s 2014 so even the term “in stores” needs redefinition, as these days a physical presence on a shelf seems unnecessary – occasionally even antiquated. Artists continue to embrace a direct-to-consumer model of marketing, bypassing the middle man and keeping more of the earnings from the hard work they put into their music in the process. “Built to Last” is built to succeed with this in mind, put out directly by Ak through his own Bandcamp imprint, making it easy for consumers to choose between a physical or a digital copy of his music. For a couple dollars more Ak will even personally autograph the CD before he drops it in the mail to you. If that’s not your thing, or you just don’t need a hard copy to hold in your hand, the entire album is available for $10.
To promote the new album and to remind people that Akrobatik is still a factor in hip-hop, Ak dropped a “Built to Last” video with a post-apocalyptic feel. Zombies seem to be staggering toward or past Ak at every turn, and Ak scavenges for supplies in deserted homes and eerily vacant parking garages. Most zombie horror movies focus on the terror of being attacked or bitten at every turn, but the true scare here is just how alone Ak is in this desolate landscape. It emphasizes the idea of “Built to Last” though – even when there’s nobody left in the world (of hip-hop) Ak will still be around.
It’s not an accident that Akrobatik feels this sense of permanence. A few years ago Ak had a heart attack and had to fight just to survive, while the said same blogs we referenced earlier ran wild with rumors that he was in a coma or on life support. Ak puts all of the stories and speculation to rest by telling the truth in his own words on the track “Alive.”
“They couldn’t hesitate
They had to saw through my chest plate
It’s sort of wild how they fix my aortic valve
Artificial parts and wires will take months to heal
Now it’s for real when I say that I’m the man of steel
Friday the 13th, the day that I won’t be hating soon
Cause friends and family was pondering in the waiting room
Words spread quicker than a stronger aroma
Rumor was that your boy was in a coma, yeah!
Shit was serious, of course I was oblivious
Damn near frozen, but not decomposing
Best friend in my ear saying I’m the chosen one
The resurrection, far from the dead direction
Cousin hugging my arm for what felt like days
For all the love I was amazed
Then the docs finally let me know that I would survive
I can’t believe I’m alive”
If “Built to Last” seems like a celebration of Akrobatik, he’s certainly earned it given what he’s been through. “I’m like that Captain America flick, the first Avenger.” That’s the remarkable thing about Ak really – he can take the depths of what he’s been through and still make it into a lyric with pop culture comparisons on a track like “Where Am I?” featuring Mr. Lif. It’s as though we’ve gone from “The Walking Dead” to “28 Days” in short order, especially when KRS-One is scratched into the hook saying “I black out and wake up to catastrophe.” The stones on Ak to turn his real life experience into entertainment for the listeners – I think it’s far to say he’s got bigcajones. Not everybody would be brave enough to talk about their real life near-death experience and turn into into a science fiction fantasy on the same album.
The Boston massive represent for their returned to life bretheren on “Built to Last” as Edo.G cameos on “Three Hunnit,” the aforementioned Mr. Lif appears on “Where Am I?” and Reks joins the set for “Rekless Abandon.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Brooklyn’s own Masta Ace is on “Three Hunnit” though. Akrobatik has already been a part of a supergroup before as part of The Perceptionists, but if they were going to revisit the concept for 2014 or beyond I’d keep Lif and Ak, but add Ace and Edo for extra flavor. Putting Ace in breaks the “Boston Strong” theme, but there’s no bad time to hear Ace on a track. That’s the same feeling I get on “Built to Last,” from the somber flows of “Stop and Stare” to the upbeat closing track “Hope” featuring JTronius. It’s good for hip-hop that Akrobatik is “Built to Last,” because the strong-willed life force matches ruggedly constructed rhymes that have a point. “I don’t mean to preach, I’m just trying to remind you/To not be another statistic with a line through.” Ak proves that he’s not the only one built to last – hip-hop music and culture is too.