After a short instrumental intro this CD momentarily delves into a surreal dreamstate, like you would hear on the score to some subliminal type horror flick. At that point, your imagination is just waiting to run wild over the soundscape that may unfold before your inner eye. Then the beat comes in and wakes you up. The melody still lingers about, but the beat just runs totally contradictory to what has been set up. It's not so much the beat per se, but the way it's arranged. There are beats, and then there are BEATS. 'Beats' as in the product of individual drum programming or of sampling of drum sounds (there's some of that here as well). These days, the only reason for there being a beat sometimes seems to be someone saying: Oh wait, we need a beat on this one, after all we're dealing with hip-hop here...
That's how unmotivated (and, in the process, rarely motivating) the drum beat often has become. For now, it seems, we can't do without it just yet, you might even go as far as saying that if the beats stop, the heartbeat of hip-hop will stop, and that's why I'll always alert folks to a weak heartbeat in a hip-hop track. Although, maybe producer Pajamaz has a point when he programms beats that have no charm whosoever. After all, this is rap music, it's supposed to wake you up, not to give you sweet dreams. Just check the sample that comes in after "Motivate" gets in gear: "I came to motivate the masses with the standard of rhyme" (Mos Def on the "Travellin' Man" remix).
The funny thing is, Jamil Mustafa is not about being standard, whether on purpose nor incidentally, matter of fact I'll quote him saying just the opposite: "The formula for makin' songs has gotten too ritualistic," he states on "Motivate". Intent on not making the same mistake, Jamil Mustafa takes the urgent approach, his very first couple of lines being even "since needles slip, CD's skip and even tapes get lost / I'll only have limited time to hit your face with thought."
He should probably have taken a little more time to craft his skills. There are sequences where he has serious problems trying to pronounciate the words, and I'm not talking about a natural lisp or something, but strictly not being up to the task of pronounciating words cleary when delivering them in a rap. I am not kidding when I say that his line "this music is the blueprint for students" phonetically sounds like "sisusic is de buprit fe studns." Okay, shame on me for picking the worst example, but also shame on Jamil Mustafa for having boasts like "one man, one mic, makin' your moves microscopic," when he struggles with basic language skills. Maybe we have to blame limited studio time, but practice makes perfect, especially in this case. Don't get me wrong, most of the time he's audible, you get what he's saying, but similar to when you listen to a kid who's just starting to learn to talk, you have to do some guesswork. Add to that that his flow tends to meander about, not really clinging to the tracks. What remains to be seen is if despite all of this Jamil Mustafa is right when he says: "Nonetheless I provide a metaphysical contact / when I speak English over cassettes and discs that are compact."
The following couple of cuts, "The Unprecedented" and "The Mind's Eye" have one simple goal: to get a crowd hype. And they surprisingly succeed in doing so, at least when it comes to this here audience member that is the reviewer. As the track allows him more time to breathe, Jamil Mustafa sounds more at ease as he addresses local competition, reps his Nomads crew from Kansas, describes stage scenes, and serves food for thought:
"Certain impulses trigger reactions in the physical
light enters the lens, manifestin' through the visual
But audio's different, subjected it all relates
so we take beats and rhymes to see if they correlate
and orchestrate our means to carry out the mission
If your soul is your ignition then you're feelin' our position
The opposition wishin' for forks in our path
MC's wandered for 40 years and lead the wars of a calf
That's mental imprisonment, I already did my time
just as fast as the average MC writes a rhyme"
With only the best of intentions, Jamil Mustafa wraps up his thoughts in ambitious song concepts like "Instrument", "High Resolution", "Figures Of Speech", "Science Friction" or "The Pulse", coming up with fairly intricate rhyme schemes and conscious lyrics, all the while retaining a refreshing ingenuousness, saying things like "I hope this reaches everyone in good spirits / I made this demotape so all my people could hear it," or offering local hardcore acts this peace treaty: "I don't like you player, but I still don't hate you" ("I Don't Like You"). On a broader scale, he certainly makes sense (there really wouldn't be no need to repeat them damn choruses all over). His young-sounding voice matches his persona, even when he schools lesser MC's, sounding like the boy who'd always get the best grades at school. Now that he's graduated from learning to teaching, so to speak, he might want to work a little bit on his presentation.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: May 30, 2002