Meyhem Lauren has nothing if not style. He’s known to live the Lo-Life, an urban cult dedicated to the tailoring of Ralph Lauren. He’s mindful of the ring names such as Buckwild, the Alchemist and Harry Fraud have in the world of hip-hop production. His releases carry choice titles like “Silk Pyramids” or “Piatto D’Oro.” Although he’s laid raps over tracks for at least ten years, he fits in with modern day wordsmiths that appeal to traditionalists and trappers alike.
With his October 2017 release “Gems From the Equinox” he takes his hustle to another level by working with multi-platinum producer DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill. While it should be obvious what makes DJ Muggs attractive to Meyhem Lauren, there’s some chance that Muggs is drawn towards Meyhem because the collaboration establishes a connection to his earliest days in Queens, NY, before he sought greener pastures and palm trees in California as a young artist. Since entering the hip-hop pantheon with Cypress Hill in the early ’90s, Lawrence Muggerud has struck out on his own, most notably with his Soul Assassins compilations, but also exploring the concept of one MC over one man’s MPC with GZA and “Grandmasters.”
This speed-reading of Muggs’ career doesn’t relate how rare studio sessions involving Muggs beats actually are. Thanks to Meyhem Lauren we now know that next to band and electronic activities he still specializes in dusky atmospheres, thundering drums and arresting samples. Speaking of, he simply can’t go wrong with the Five Stairsteps loop he uses for “Street Religion,” curiously underused over the course of hip-hop history, and as expected Meyhem and guest Roc Marciano revel in this 21st century version of the late ’90s Firm aesthetic. Soundbite: “My shirts look like art pieces / My life story’s like a sharp thesis / My heart preaches what my mind know, sense over emotion / Never see pyramids built without devotion.”
Yet as a master of sonic manipulation Muggs has typically avoided going the easy route musically (at least before the Hill settled into its later-career crossover groove), and he returns to his creative roots on “Gems From the Equinox.” He engineers “Camel Crush” just right so that the rapper’s voice soars with authority above the deafening workshop backdrop. “Shea Stadium” must surely be set in the catacombs of the former home of the Mets, the way Meyhem Lauren and Action Bronson wander through cavernous spaces of sound. Before you know it, the pace picks up with the chase scene of “Hashashin,” with Conway the Machine riding shotgun (and letting off, too).
Guest appearances are a constant concern in modern rap music, but at the end of the day a not consistently convincing leading man like Meyhem Lauren benefits from proper support. Case in point – Muggs plunges “Aquatic Violence” deep into murky waters, an environment made for vocalists who put the gutter into guttural like Mr. Muthaf***in’ eXquire and Sean Price, who once more bows out of this world like only he can.
The second half of the album follows the same formula of engaging beats and rewarding cameos. “War Drums” smacks you upside your head with – ironically – blaring horns and presents rappers to discover named Benny The Butcher and Hologram. “Szechuan Peppercorns” opens with a vintage Action Bronson moment (“You could tell she was a mediocre lover / from the way that she was dancin’ at the wedding”), who has to accept Muggs placing him into a Shaolin scenery, certainly not completely foreign territory to the producer himself. Perhaps it’s the smoother surface and higher tempo that make one think “Redrum” would fit on a Cypress Hill release, while “Murder Rap” erects a guitar wall before revealing the ambitious producer when Muggs flips the riff during a drum-less break.
“Gems From the Equinox” is not just another project in an infinite loop of possible collaborative constellations. Meyhem Lauren is never going to develop into a Big, Nas or Jay, but he’s slowly gaining focus in terms of delivery and lyrics. (Check his performance on the closing “Tension” bookended by “2-for-1 special, best friend and worst enemy / Fly shit pedigree, way past allegedly” and “Stay humble but I view myself powerfully / I’ma be official till the elements devour me.”) He has that typical New York way of letting you know what you should think of him, and individual style and overall setting (the title references the writings of wacko extraordinaire Aleister Crowley) mark this as something a little bit special.