Last reviewed on this website in November of 2002, S.U.N. didn't shine too brightly on "School of Thought." Writer Matt Jost was not sparing in his blunt criticism, going so far as to say, "With no substance and even less style, S.U.N. is sure to burn out." At RapReviews.com though we're all about second chances, sometimes (as with the 101st Airbourne) to our own detriment. Nevertheless when I received S.U.N.'s "The Art of S.U.N." in the mail, I decided to see if he had revamped and improved his style between 2002 and 2004 into something more interesting and beneficial to the photosynthetic processes of growing dope indie rap.
S.U.N.'s light shines brightest when producers like DJ AMF lace up the tracks. Violin playing by Joel and singing by Nani Wesley harmonize nicely with an effective set of basslines and drums, which gives S.U.N. the breadth and depth to spit his brand of positivity over the track:
"Through creations, and my Godly innovation
I walk the light to avoid the dark situations
But everywhere I look there's temptation, I search for salvation
Every day that passes, time is wasting
The pain of the brothers bring stress to the mothers
You look to be a wife, he only wants to be yo' lover
No excuses, I marinate before I cue it
Write a rough draft, lay it down, then review it"
Certainly a promising start. "Feel the Drums" works well too, thanks to a track that lives up to it's billing. "When I bust it, my percussion give concussions" raps S.U.N., and indeed the rapper co-produced this joint along with AMF's help. It has the jazzy uplifting feel of an X-Clan track, and S.U.N. poses questions questions worth answering like "Why so many churches and we still hurtin'?" And clearly, S.U.N. has an afrocentric agenda on his mind on "Black Economics," which opens with Richard Pryor's famous monologue where his whole perspective on life changed when he went to Africa and saw "black people in charge of everything." S.U.N. envisions such a world for African-American communities in the U.S. too, with a self-sustaining exchange of wealth between black restaurants, hair salons, shop owners, and even the "black" market for cable boxes to let you watch pirated pay per view. In S.U.N.'s worldview, it doesn't have to be legal, just as long as it's black.
Some might say such a narrow worldview is counterproductive to the economic and political realities of today's world, but you can't fault S.U.N. for taking a stand on his philosophy and sticking to it. Unfortunately as the album continues on, S.U.N. starts to sound more and more preachy and didactic, which disconnects him from an audience that probably prefers not to be lectured to; or rather, would much prefer to be lectures to by a doper "t'cha" such as KRS-One. S.U.N. often lacks in charisma, causing the listener to lose interest when combined with a vocal tone that makes Guru and Prodigy sound like they have a five-octave range by comparison. There are times when the music seems to break through these clouds of mediocrity and inspire S.U.N. to shine though, such as the Tink produced "Art of S.U.N." or "Blaze a Path" featuring the Subterraneous Records rapper OneManArmy among others.
When S.U.N. diverts away from his black pride message and dissing devils for polluting the environment and poisoning the water (a fair enough argument with George W. Bush manhandling the EPA, however racially biased it may be) his results are even more mixed. A track named "Old School" should probably generate nostalgia, but AMF's beat is a little too simplistic here and Anthony Mills adds nothing by singing the hook. Stick to the 2Pac song on the same name instead. "Hopeless" fares a little better, and has nice guest appearances by 14KT and Texture of Athletic Mic League. The best track of all though might be the DJ Graffiti produced "Make it Right," which has a light piano and drum mixture that evokes comparison to Binary Star or K-Otix. While S.U.N. again could use a strong dose of personality, his flow and lyrics are nevertheless not the whack over this tight beat:
"I write lyrics
My melodies harmonies make you feel the spirit
My people can't wait to hear it
Nowadays, all we do is hang and look for dime to blaze
Part time hustlers, frontin cause they kinda paid
Another twenty-fo' in this three-sixty-five
Everyday I breathe I use my conscience for my guide
I try to figure out where my life's at
So when I travel I take my kids, so they can be my road map"
Nuff respect to S.U.N. for being a family man and a good father. And generally speaking, it really seems that S.U.N. is slowly but steadily improving. "With S.U.N. providing scarecely any guiding light, these gentle soundscapes remain lifeless," wrote Matt Jost in 2002. It may have been true then, but just like the sun itself S.U.N. wasn't afraid to keep on trying to shine. With a little more vocalization, some hotter beats, and less preaching, S.U.N. may yet shine on the hip-hop nation.
Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6.5 of 10
Originally posted: January 13, 2004