Transmitting live and direct, from the City of Winds, comes the very anticipated debut release Chicago's finest, SoulStice, with "North By Northwest". Many tend to overlook Chi-Town when it comes to its recognition of DJ's, Emcees, producers and other representing the various elements of his culture that we call Hip-Hop. SoulStice effort delivers the one/two knockout punch, more funkier than Common's Car Horn, that's going to put Chicago back on the map. While others are mostly familiar with the likes of beat wizard, No I.D., Dug Infinite, Capital D and The Molemen and rappers/crews like All Natural, Common, Twista, "North By Northwest" is sure to open the gates (and doors) for not only Chicago, but for SoulStice, himself.
The feel of the album ranges from chillin'/reflection mode to insightful/enlightening, to straight up in-your-face/battle mode. In the fashion of most underground artists, SoulStice successfully attempts to recreate and add to the magic of what most commercial rap tracks have been lacking…originality, real lyrics and going back to the basics. Although SM Arson produces the majority of the tracks on the album, the overall production team that assembled "North By Northwest" consists of SM (Star Master) Arson, oddiSee, Joe Braxton, Mike and Raistlin.
SoulStice's style is similar to that of a Freestyle Fellowship member, Del the Funkee Homosapien or A Tribe Unique in which he can definitely be considered a "thinking mans" emcee. With topics ranging from issues that are thoughtful through simple and traditional observations, to educational by addressing to "write down your thoughts", to straight hardcore lyrical bombing. The album starts out with nicely with one of the best tracks of the album, "The Melody". A Pete Rock-like produced track with an ill piano sample riding over a head-nodding beats as SoulStice efficiently spits his lyrics, "I Rep for crew/Rep for you/Even Rep for revenue/Long as I'm reppin' true in whatever I do". Forget being an opening act, ‘Headlines" is a testament of SoulStice's hunger in the game and the necessity to be the headlines of any show. As you progress into the album, a dreamy/orchestrated sure-shot future classic, titled, ‘Sleepwalk" with the Quincy Jones/"Summer in the City" organ sample over a classic Hip-Hop break beat points out:
"Right or wrong, live life, write a line about it
Right or wrong, live life, write a verse about it
Right or wrong, live life, write a song about it
Right or wrong, writing songs, night to dawn, life long, right?"
The message in "Sleepwalk", basically dictates that no matter what location, no matter what one has done or what time of the day it is, writing/documenting it is essential. Other stand out, dope tracks include; "Something to Prove" with featured artist, essoHess, "Movement", which is a 70's flashback in a funky, Shaft-like fashion where SoulStice rips the track stating, "Our souls ride the same rhythm/To Maintain when times change, you change with them", "Sacred Ground" (a DJ Premier-esqe track), "World Stops" and the insightful perspective, titled, "Ebony Sea", which lets one into the mind of SoulStice on things he can appreciate when he need to mentally get away.
All-in-all, the overall selection of tracks are game tight, with honorable mentions of the other well-put-together tracks (lyrically and production wise) like; "Anywhere" with a perfect lyrically collaboration with female guest artist Psalm One, "S.O.U.L.", the futuristic Krafterk-style track that SoulStice lyrically bombs on; the emcee-battling track, "Hold Your Breath", "It's All Love" and a well delivered, conscientious and motivating, Santana-like Rock/Rap track, "Free Fall".
Most emcees of today are so bent up on maintaining their image, style and street credibility, etc., SoulStice goes to show that commercial entities and desires are irrelevant when there's so many important things that we can focus on to be better people mentally, spiritually and educationally, while still going out there being real and representing the world of Hip-Hop. While most of the album is fused with dope beats variating in individual style, ill lyrics and thoughtful context there are a few things that take away, a small fraction, of the luster. Various tracks such as "Anywhere (remix)", seem to be rushed as far as the beat compilation, and "Don't Come Through" doesn't seem to fit within the other tracks on the album, beat and melody wise. However, it still doesn't take away from a very good world debut of an emcee who is, by far, going to create the type of buzz that will get his name (and music) ringing in the ears of the Hip-Hop masses…reppin' Chi-Town, reppin'what's true to him, and reppin' for the culture.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: April 4, 2003