"Acts of God 1" finds Stu Dent of the Deepspace5 crew playing the part of a Nephilim – a half human, half angelic being – and exploring notions of modern living through religious allegory and introspective thought. Theology plays a part on a number of the songs, although primarily in a mythological, conceptual way instead of a preachy one.
Leaving aside the complexities underlying this album for one moment, Stu Dent's rhymes land him somewhere between Aesop Rock and Slug, without the self-effacing sarcasm of either. "Nephilim", both through its mythical reference to a being that exists somewhere between the spiritual and actual world, and through Stu Dent's own lyrical predilection, dwells on personal issues such as overcoming adversity and distress, and finding the correct path to follow throughout life.
Musically, the path "Nephilim" follows is one of relative simplicity. Dent picked twelve different producers for the project – only Just Me and Mattman supply more than one production – yet each track uses a leading sample and a strong drum-track to provide the melodic backing for Dent's lyrical ponderings. "Equation", which might easily be the track which best summarises the entire product, has Mattman crafting together digitised samples and alternating effects, while Dent muses upon what makes him who he is:
"Well I figure if I stay in the Word and go to church
Learn some facts and maybe rack up some works
I'll be able to outlast the impression and learn lessons
And forgive my past for all of my aggressions
I'm a man bent on prayer to keep focussed
Property of a king, so I am Jehovah's...
... And I ain't gotta say that name I rep in every song written
I could never spit it once and still be forgiven"
Irrespective of Dent's religious referencing, it's spirituality that underlines his work more than subscription to a particular faith. The combination of the music supplied by producers, Dent's consistent tone, and his choice of lyrics successfully evokes notions of searching throughout the duration of the album. Dent's flow conveys emotion and uncertainty and, at times, the relief of having reached a decision, or a solution to one of the puzzles that face him.
From the low-key bass and bells that make up Prime's production on "The Longest Night" to the jazzy, Pete Rock-esque piano and drums of Kut-O's "Invisibullet", Dent grows into his determined position as a spiritual messenger of sorts, assuring those who, like him, are unsure, that trials will come and go, and looking within is the best way to find an answer:
"After the rain, laughter and shame
The highs and the lows, the disaster and pain
The wrong and the right, the thrill of a fight
You'll see what you have at the end of the night
The sky's moving too slow so I wonder where we are
In the mood of society we're living unreliably
Son I'm nowhere and back
I'm lost with no sense of direction
So I make turns for introspection"
There are times when Dent's spiritual leanings make little or confused sense, or offer minimum enlightenment in return for unnecessarily difficult metaphor, but he mostly keeps on track with his own quest to better himself, and the related quest of educating others. "Don't always believe what you see" is what could possibly be discerned at the underlying message of all the music on this album.
Although Dent doesn't entirely avoid pitfalls throughout this project – the chanted hook of "Dayda Deigh" and its uninspiring emphasis on the tired subject of persevering in life and music despite the fact that "nobody's giving major pay" makes it one to potentially skip – he succeeds in delivery a thought-provoking and musically satisfying album, developed around an original and effective concept. He may lack the complex vocabulary of Aesop Rock (although I'll concede some may view this as a bonus, not a disadvantage), and he may not deliver his rhymes with the same humour and wit that Slug employs, but "Nephilim/Acts of God 1" promises those who appreciate pensive rap that there's a new face to check for.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: December 9, 2003