Concepts and ideas planned out in a manner that is precise are things that work in a business infrastructure. It also works in rap music, when those concepts and ideas are executed correctly. There is a section of the hip-hop community that hears the words "concept" and "album" together, and words like bigheaded and overblown are often mentioned. I don't think no one has ever made an attempt to do a hip-hop version of "Tommy" or "Operation:mindcrime", nor does a "concept" mean that an entire album has to flow like an opera. It simply means one has to come up with an effective beginning and ending. What dances in the middle is up to the artist, who may or may not be capable of handling the task.
The problem with a lot of rap albums today is most people making albums shouldn't. A lot of rappers are more than happy to supply the next hit, and sadly that becomes the focus of what rap music is all about. Those who are willing to step out of the norm are considered... well, come up with your own stereotypes and tags. Braille has been someone who has walked his own path for awhile, not looking for a yellow brick road but for a road that was made for a rapper like him. "Shades of Grey" is an album that is well thought out, an incredlble amount of powerful and intense lyrics backed up by producers who know how to take his words over the top. In "It Won't Last" (produced by Weapon X), he and guest rappers Othello and Pigeon John talk about repetitive rappers who say nothing, and people eat that up to where it becomes the only style of music they listen to. "Goliath" (produced by Ohmega Watts) takes Braille into familiar territory, touching on the story of David and Goliath and using it as a metaphor for what the music industry has become. In other words, it's a beast that thousands have to deal with, and sadly also leaves behind many casualties.
Positivity is the topic of discussion in "Soul Rock", where Braille is backed with Ohmega Watts and Othello, along with Sharlok Poems of L.A. Symphony, and hearing how well these guys rap together makes one wish more people were tapping into this recipe.
Braille can carry it off when he has his friends complimenting him, but he stands out more when he takes a song on his own. In the title track, Braille taps into the human psyche and how we bob and weave throughout life for the sake of keeping head over water:
"What could drive a man off a cliff, lost in thoughts
analyze life to find what's real and what's not
forgotten faces, flashing through my conscience
a conquest for freedom, constant forward motion
leaving Egypt, past erased from attachment
to start from scratch with the bricks that established
my true identity, secret to most
deeper then known, I'm keeping it close, to my heart
written on stone tablets, alone in my magic
advice projected, correcting bad habits
laughing as I drowned in mystical tears
mind consumed by thoughts that my physical fears
I can't, listen with ears, cause words will deceive
as I stand up against darker versions of me
looking over my shoulder, waiting for false moves
dancing around land-mines and get lost in the grove
what happens when all the light slowly fades away
and you try to see God inside a shade of grey
he's ever-present, through our mistakes flaws and folly
he could have left me falling, but instead he called me
and I answered, silent and unsure what to say
just thanking him for life even with the shades of grey"
With production contributions from Kno of CunninLynguists and 9th Wonder of Little Brother, "Shades Of Grey" is a top notch album that is one of the more important hip-hop albums of the year. Braille could very well be on his way to taking his music to the next level, wherever he chooses to take it, and regardless of who adds color to his shades of grey.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: August 24, 2004