Drugs continue to feature heavily in hip-hop, whether it’s the languid aloofness of lean or the frequently flaunted business advice from coke peddlers – you’re never far from mind-altering substances. Few artists tackle the likes of heroin or LSD, presumably because they are genuinely life-destroying and difficult to build a rap career around without either alienating listeners (needles and pills aren’t exactly cool) or just creating something that’s completely bonkers. File this under the latter.
I actually included this album in my Top 10 of 2020 because it genuinely blew me away. Having never heard of Cambatta and seeing he had a record on Mello Music Group, I figured he would be talented but the artsy artwork could be construed as abstract, and therefore an acquired taste. Cambatta worked with Loaded Lux and Canibus before this record released, and those two hyper-lyrical emcees perfectly encapsulate how Cambatta sounds. He’s a fucking monster, but not in the traditional punchline rapper model that say, Chino XL is cut from. He’s kicking science and elaborate vocabulary that bring in influences of Nas and MF Doom – the kind of shit that sounds ill but when written down and looked at properly, you can tell it has been crafted carefully. What marks Cambatta out as unique on “LSD” is that he continues to surprise the listener with where he takes his rhymes. The problem with listening to too much rap music is that you begin predicting subsequent bars or rhyming words. I never feel this with the greats of the genre: Elzhi, Eminem, Pharoahe Monch – they take you places you don’t expect to go. Cambatta is in that category.
The song names alone are tantamount to a head trip and the first track (“Bloodmoon”) flirts dangerously between tough wordplay and obnoxious nonsense. I’m not afraid to admit that rappers like Killah Priest can lean too much into their imagination and end up crafting neat-sounding worlds that defy any actual logic or science – it sounds dope but actually means nothing. There’s an element of that to Cambatta, but there’s a precision and haunting menace to everything the Connecticut emcee shares you can’t help but be gripped.
The highlights of “LSD” are where rhymes combine personal experience with battle rap structures. “Bones of Osiris” is the perfect example:
“33” is one of the most potent rap songs. Ever. Imagine a dark twist on Lukas Graham’s hit-single “7 Years” backed by lyrics documenting the age Cambatta experienced everything ranging from finding drugs at 8, pussy at 13, and prison at 19. The Kenny Buttons vocals are terrifying coupled with the scattershot kicks and drums – it’s like a really vivid nightmare with more going on in its five-minute length than most rappers share through their whole career. With barely a moment to catch your breath, you’re thrown into “nXggXr ChrXst” with its intense anti-Christ motives and intricate bars showcasing Cambatta’s knack for creating memorable visuals. The second verse is particularly potent:
“I turn vices to virtues, call it eyelid reversal, I wake up your light and resurge you
I restore the sight in your third view my science is verbal
From deep in the silence I birth you, circle divided by circle
Inside of a cypher of circles like vesica piscis I merge you, the cycles converge you
When God used his joystick to guide me
He played so hard that he numbed his thumbs
I’ma hit a lick like I punched a tongue, I’m as sharp as the knife Jay stuck in Un
Crew iller I’m the hundred one, I got hungry lungs
Me versus the whole world’s population still feels like a one on one
You see impossible, I see I’m possible, momma look at what I can do“
There’s a wide array of production talent on display throughout “LSD” that it’s remarkable how it still manages to feel cohesive. Mathew Godfather, Chup The Producer, Lucid Swank, VDon, Nick Price, Gum$, Eddie Deuce, E. Bass, Black Magik, Kyle Otto, D. Polo, O.P. Supa, Piff James, Bvtman – there’s a lot of names here that will be new for most readers, but there’s not really a bad beat. “Lunar Solar” lacks snares which just felt like it needed them, but that’s a personal preference.
The album takes a break halfway through with “24ours” toning down the complex schemes and overbearing production – it’s bordering on R&B. You’re then thrown back into “nXggXrla tXsla” as Cambatta plays the part of a black Nikola Tesla with everything he would do and/or invent. The corn on the cob and combined tampon/vibrator ideas are wild, but so innovative that I wouldn’t be surprised if these are already in development. There’s a Papoose-like concept track called “Grand Number TheoRAM” with numbers driving each rhyme. This goes far beyond the predictable “I have a nine” with backstories on why a 2 is knealt down and creating concepts regarding time and space. It’s all thought-provoking and certainly open to replays as you pick apart hidden meanings. “You see Z, I see two 7s, a triangle is two 7s in reflection” is one line – but I understand this type of rap isn’t going to be for everyone.
Concepts spill all over “LSD” – the sheer relentless creativity is admirable to the point of applaudable. “Mic El JahXsun” sees Cambatta take over Michael Jackson’s body and live out his life, sharing what he would do. The title track lists paradoxes and opposites that use the letters L, S, and D – I’ve not seen this concept done this well:
“Every time I let semen drop
I create a legacy of super demigods
I’m Luke Skywalker’s daddy
My red light saber’s doffed
My laboratory’s secluded in dark
Lyrics sick as dysentery
I’m a living speaking dictionary
Mental lexicon Sumerian dialect
I see the image like Spike directs”
The influence of Canibus is undeniable and Cambatta certainly owes a degree of gratitude to Bis for both his vicious delivery and ability to drop a listener’s jaw with an extensive vocabulary. But Cambatta feels more precise and modern as an emcee – and he has a better ear for beats too. There is just as much confusion as knowledge on display; scepticism and beliefs remain key themes balanced by an admirable knack for jumping between cold hard reality and wildly vivid imagery. It’s a really impressive rap album that’s brave, modern and creative. Even the end feels like a comedown from a elevated state. I just can’t wait for the next trip.