With so many artists wasting talent, it's nice to see someone doing the opposite. There are plenty of instances throughout hip-hop history of people never reaching expectations, whether due to terrible beat selection, lack of originality, or a simple deterioration of skills. How often, though, do you see someone exceed those expectations? S.T.L. is one of those rare cases of an artist making better music than anyone could foresee. He appears to lack any stand-out skills on the mic. His voice isn't exactly riveting either, and much of the production (mostly done by Korleon) is cookie-cutter. There are moments on "The Soundtrack," though, that are absolutely brilliant, and S.T.L. is clearly responsible. Something is amiss.
This Virginia-born emcee starts out inconspicuously. S.T.L. immediately demonstrates why no one knows his name on "VA/NY Banger," with his dull voice and a collection of uninspiring rhymes. Additionally, aside from the catchy intro, which is self-produced, none of Korleon's production work is terribly notable. The first five tracks of "The Soundtrack" are decidedly unimpressive.
S.T.L.'s wittiness begins to shine through on "This Song Sucks," a wonderful concept song that is exactly the opposite of what is to be expected from a rapper:
"This song belongs in the trash bag
Next to that flick by Jennifer Lo' and Affleck
And if you listen to the song and don't think that it's half bad
Then you haven't heard what the second half of this track has
I do apologize in advance
For making a song that's even despised by my fans"
The rhyme structure is never complex with S.T.L., but he has a gift that most rappers don't: He can be truly funny. Not funny in a Jadakiss punchline way, but as an artist who can execute really odd concept songs with ease. Of course, the song is a joke, because it really is an amusing flip of the typical self-promotion formula that most emcees follow. Even Korleon comes through on the beat, though according to S.T.L., "the beat's horrible."
"My Name Ain't Stress" is in a similar vein, as he lists off hundreds of negative comments about himself, with the likely purpose of letting his critics know that he has heard it all. He gets creative again with the concept, but his job is made considerably easier by the gorgeous piano loop that Korleon provides. Easily one of the best productions I have heard all year, he completely redeems himself for some otherwise spotty work on the rest of the record.
S.T.L. continues his top-notch concept execution with "Writer's Block," rhyming from the perspective of an artist whose well is running dry. Once again, the rhymes are far from complex, but his wit shines through:
"Man, I got this brain freeze in the worst way
With ideas slipping my mind quicker than birthdays
I asked my girl for some help,
She's like 'no Wayne, why bother, you never use my ideas, no way!'
OK, whatever you say, don't want to fight now
Just trying to think of something I could write down
So pipe down, let me concentrate
I don't want to hear you whine like you stomping grapes"
S.T.L. puts in a truly remarkable performance here, mixing humor with biting sarcasm. He even takes the concept to the next level, explaining how he was able to write the song, thus answering the question some listeners might have about the paradoxical nature of the song.
The album's high point comes toward the end with "The S.T.L. Show," when he takes calls from listeners Dear Abby style. The result is wonderfully executed and utterly hilarious. The concept songs really push "The Soundtrack" along, because of S.T.L.'s relative lack of traditional mic skills. The songs without a specific focus are not very interesting, partially because Korleon's good production credits seem to coincide with S.T.L.'s best performances. This is a blessing, and because of this coordination there are several songs that beg to be replayed.
"The Soundtrack" is an enigma, because on paper S.T.L. isn't that great. A handful of impeccable joints really hold the LP together, though, and make the lesser tracks easier to stomach. It's hard to hate a rapper who names a battle track "I Won't Shoot You." He earns the listener's trust so much that you won't be mad at him for the guitar-laden folk song "Love U From Behind." By the end of this record, it is clear that every time S.T.L. tries something different, it is a wild success. This album has flaws aplenty, but some truly incredible stuff along with the filler. Watch out for S.T.L. now, because when he puts it all together, everyone will have some catching up to do.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 9, 2004