In a sense, Wordsworth is the perennial underachiever of independent Hip Hop. The fact that a man who made notable contributions to Tribe's "The Love Movement" and Mos Def/Talib Kweli's "Black Star" project, as well as appearing on a number of compilations and basically running MTV's "Lyricist Lounge Show", has taken this long to release his solo work is a little unusual. But Wordsworth clearly hasn't been sitting on his laurels, or coasting on the respect he's given: he's been honing his art.
The promo EP I received contains only seven different tracks and a couple of edited versions, yet it could already claim completeness as a Hip Hop album. Wordsworth glides effortlessly and with style through various important emceeing steps, and has chosen producers and tracks throughout that match not only his flow, but the subject matter he considers. And common to all seven of the tracks here is the level of intelligence with which Wordsworth crafts lyrics. None of Wordsworth's verses are particularly conceptual, nor are they littered with abstractions or cryptic references, but the captivating way Wordsworth builds pictures or relates stories is testament to an emcee who doesn't need to complicate his raps to prove his intelligence.
"Not Me" gets the music going over a J-Zone beat that's nothing short of incredible. It has similar instrumentation to El-P's beat from Mr.Lif's "Earthcrusher" with affected string progressions and crescendos and plinking keys, and J-Zone's drum programming makes the whole thing jump. Here, it seems, Wordsworth is just letting the flow carry him. Built around a hook on which he describes the characteristics of weaker men and asserts that they don't apply to him, his lyrics dance around notions of Hip Hop, what it is to be a rapper and what it is to be a man, with a number of genius asides thrown in for good measure:
"Copping love from tracks I appeared on in the past
Fans gained just like the brand name that appears on the tag
Companies want me to wear the gear in the ad
So it could have the effect terrorists had on people that buy the American flag"
Wordsworth touches the staple Hip Hop bases of ghetto narrative and troublesome love on "Apartments" and "That Way" respectively but, as you might assume, while these tracks pick up on traditional themes, they don't imitate any examples of those themes that have been used before. "Apartments", with its beat that flips the sample from Ghostface's "260", is an exploration of the building our narrator lives in, and that building exemplifies all the imperfections of poor urban existence. As Wordsworth travels between apartments and floors, he points out drug dealers, prostitutes, child molesters, gamblers, broken families and even the local pirate DVD seller, and he sums it all up with the fact that when the police arrive, invariably nobody saw anything. "That Way", on a slightly lighter note, considers the difficulty of having a son with a woman you don't love, and having your child grow up with someone else while you work non-stop to support them both. Wordsworth takes us from the delivery room, through the separate houses of himself and the mother of his child, and towards the hope of some reconciliation in the future, so that their child can grow up with both its parents.
"Wild Life" considers a more personal experience of injustice in the world than the broad scope of "Apartments", and is dedicated to all the people Words grew up with and doesn't see anymore, because a number of them make an appearance in this biographical tale. Wordsworth conjures up the naivety of himself as a young man to address verses of imprisonment, heartbreak and murder, and rounds each one off with the contemplative musing that it's a wild life and good deeds don't always bring rewards, but it'll be okay someday:
"I took the J Train to Bushwick every month visiting
Some cats didn't need lectures; just someone listening
Kept in touch and we spoke until his phone time would run out
To let him know he's still my dog when he comes out
Then my brother Victor spent the night
Woke up to see everything gone when I hit the light
Isn't it a wild life?"
Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, Wordsworth calls on Da Beatminerz to conjure up a rousing beat so he can deliver the anthemic "On Your Feet" and drops a ridiculously long freestyle on "40 Bars". There aren't too many emcees out there who can explore such a broad range of subject matter, and work with a different producer on each song, and still retain a coherence and consistency that continues through every last track yet Wordsworth is clearly one of the few. His solo work may be long overdue, but on the strength of this promo, it will certainly have been worth the wait.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 18, 2003