You know what the difference is between a warning and a threat? A warning makes someone aware of a danger, while a threat is an intent to bring that danger upon someone. In the context of hip-hop lyricism, battle rhymes are comprised of both. Grind Mode Cypher emcees Lingo, AyoK, and J.A.I. Pera are accustomed to issuing such verbal assaults, particularly in the vein of the latter. Accordingly, they’ve joined forces as a group for an album regarding themselves as a THR3AT. Additionally, they seem aware that threats are of no consequence when the person making them can’t back up their gumption. Hence, the album title, taken from a Ras Kass song, is the promissory title “Nature of the THR3AT“. Produced entirely by Lingo himself, the album’s music is as varied as the lyricism, which ranges from hardcore to political to introspective.
With the sole exception of Massachusetts-based rapper-singer Aly K, there are no guest rappers featured on this album. But with the way THR3AT raps, they don’t necessarily need any help from their friends. Individually, their styles are distinct enough to tell them apart: Lingo has the raspy voice with clever wordplay, AyoK has a penchant for rapid back-to-back multis, and Pera is the gutter-voiced street poet from Queens. For the most part, they adapt their flows over the versatile production, which has a sound going from boom-bap to a polished accessibility. The opening track, “THR3AT”, has the sonic menace that lets you know that these emcees are serious. Both “My Lane” and “Brighter Days” each have a similar hardcore aesthetic to their production, but the latter is less about lyrical assault and more about perseverance. The “accessible” portion of the album begins on “Won’t Be Long”, featuring the aforementioned Aly K on the hook. A storytelling track over Lingo’s melodic and layered hand-clap production, each emcee provides third-person narratives about working your hardest:
This may be their first album as a group, but each man has been in the rap game for a long time. Case-in-point: Listen to “Make It Look Easy”. Over a production with a standout drum/hi-hat combo, this lyrical triad lets their audience know that their craft requires work despite the ease with which they appear to do it. “We All Hip-Hop” is an ode to the genre. With frantic boom-bap production containing jazz samples, AyoK drops the heavy load early in the first verse, Pera reminds you that ‘Queens gets the money’, and Lingo goes into what inspired him to rap. It’s AyoK who has the best verse as his natural flow coincides with the quick pace of the production more so than the latter two. But more than reflection and battle rhymes, there’s upbeat party tracks. “Let’s Party” shows Lingo’s versatility as a producer. The beat is nightlife-friendly and synth-heavy, but it’s a head-nodder with celebratory lyrics that lack the vapid excess of a mainstream party track. On “Wake Up”, things get serious as the three engage in social commentary, examining the ominous social landscape as presented in 2020.
The album shifts back to positive introspection on the piano-driven “Live Your Dream”, an encouragement to overcome adversity with children’s voices multi-tracked on the hook. “Amazing” follows the same lyrical theme, but the production is more lush. AyoK takes the hook on this one, encouraging listeners to “live your life like it’s one shot, one roll of the dice…” while Pera and Lingo marvel at their dreams turning to reality. “Run Away” begins with female vocals and has an echo to the lush jazzy production. Another storytelling track, each emcee frames themselves as AA/NA meeting attendants. The concept is good, but they could’ve taken it further. “Reckless” also starts off with an atmospheric female voice, though this one was singing “I wanna be reckless” and gave me the initial impression that they were trying their hand at a club track. But when the beat drops and the raps commence, the group put a chokehold on my doubts and lived up to their name:
The last four tracks feel more like diary entries tweaked into musical form. Older peers from their youth are given a shoutout on “Big Homie”, as is nostalgia on “Young Forever”, which has the most potential for radio play with its upbeat familiarity. Pera gets extra points on that track with his references to 1993’s “The Sandlot”. The production on “These Days” is rich and a reflection on their current present. The final track, “Hold On (Memories)”, may seem like a pretty somber way to close out the album, but having such a track on here shows that THR3AT has most lyrical angles covered for the album. Overall “Nature of the THR3AT” is a showcase of their versatility which evidently goes beyond battle raps. As a group, they may not ever sell anywhere near their triad counterparts in mainstream hip-hop. But unlike those guys, the skills that THR3AT are possessed of ensure that they’ll always have work.