Certain people throughout hip-hop history have embodied the qualities of the ultimate emcee perfectly. It takes a swaggering confidence, true lyrical skills, and a passion to relay one's thoughts and feelings through recorded music and live performance. In my mind, KRS-One is the prototype for this type of musician, because he uses the medium to relate such a wide variety of emotions, and he tries to influence people's lives for the better. A quest for truth is involved in every emcee's music, and those that are able to define what the music means to them and relate their love are the most successful. Though pure rhyming skill is vital, a true emcee thinks through their words, and the music they create, if nothing else, is true.
One.Be.Lo will be recognizable to some from his previous work as half of the duo called Binary Star. Along with Senim Silla, he was an underground stalwart in the truest sense, hailing from Michigan and reaching relatively few people, despite the dopeness of the music. "Masters of the Universe" is their most known project, and to those who know it, is a new-school classic. One.Be.Lo has struck out on his own, though, with his solo debut, "S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M." The letters stand for Sounds Of Nashid Originate Good Rhymes And Music, an ambitious title which is ultimately true. The twenty-two tracks are nearly all worthwhile, exploring a wide variety of topics over consistently superior production. There is plenty of engaging material, and several songs that will beg for frequent replay.
The intro sets the tone wonderfully with thick horns and heavy drums, and One.Be.Lo reintroduces himself. The running time is short, and only a few bars are spoken on the opener, but they are powerful. He rides the subtly catchy beat for about thirty seconds with slightly distorted vocals, and without being a full song, the intro stands on its own very well. "The UNDERground" springs to life after this, a beautiful uptempo track with a confidently chanted hook. One.Be.Lo displays plenty of arrogance in reasserting himself:
"Ladies and gentlemen, gators and Timberlands
The digga-digga-DJ banging my shit again
Got everybody wilding out, crazy adrenaline
Haters be getting down, must be taking some Ritalin
This joint is for the hardcore multiple art forms
Take you back to b-boys spinning on cardboards
The Rock Steady, already, word on the street
One of your favorite emcees ever heard on the beat
Trackazoids, ready to bust, who ready for us?
Most stations' rotation ain't heavy enough"
"kcaB nO ehT enecS" slows things down considerably with a subdued yet pronounced sample, and a touch of trumpets in the background to add a therapeutic quality. By only track three, the extensive crate-digging of One.Be.Lo and his production partner Decompoze is on full display. The most impressive aspect of the production is the variation of moods they create on the first three songs, without compromising the continuity of the record as a whole. From beginning to end, the two alternate producing duties, creating a cohesive collection of tracks for the emcee's perusal.
One.Be.Lo doesn't outside of the usual formula early in the record in terms of lyricism, but his words are intriguing and memorable nevertheless. "Oggie" begins the deviation from the norm, as One.Be.Lo begins by mourning a friend, eventually switching to his focus as an emcee. The track is incredibly catchy, and its brevity allows for full attention throughout. "Propaganda" follows, attacking the media with vocal samples and lines like "so many programs you watch on the sofa, but the real program sits on top of your shoulders." Again, the guitars and heavy bass match the riveting rhymes. "The Ghetto" touches on the frequently explored topic of the ‘hood, but is done in a fresh and insightful way. The next track… well, you get the idea. Up until this point on the record, everything he has given us is creative, stimulating, and catchy. After introducing himself in the first three tracks, One.Be.Lo has stretched the subject matter in various ways in the subsequent moments.
"Sleepwalking" features Ka Di, and again, the production is unique and excellent. This time it is Magestik Legend on the beat. One.Be.Lo continues his conquest of wack rappers with another great performance. "True Love" is pretty self-explanatory, and One.Be.Lo and Decompoze breathe life into the song through their passionate words. Throughout "S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.," there are no weak songs, only moments that are less inspiring than others. A couple of the beats are less intriguing than most of what you'll find on this album, but the lyrics are unassumingly dope and a constant throughout. Out of the twenty-two tracks, every one (save the scarce interludes) is worth several listens. There are some hidden gems, like "E.T.," a love song to an alien, and the Jeru-esque "Evil of Self" with Abdus Salaam. There, the production is uncharacteristically uneven, but One.Be.Lo salvages the oddly ominous music with plenty of help from Salaam.
The joint that seals the deal comes deep into the record, with the Decompoze-produced "Rocketship." The best way to describe the beat is just that it bumps, and is guaranteed to have even the most skeptical listener engrossed. One.Be.Lo drops a simple battle rap, but he rides the rhythm perfectly, without taking command of the track. Nothing powerful or deep, just great hip-hop the way it is supposed to be. There are no jaw-dropping one-liners or memorable metaphors, but every aspect of the song is masterful.
This album is just plain ill. There are a handful of songs alone that justify the price of the album, but as a whole, it is much more. Every cut is interesting or meaningful in some way, and the vast majority is of very high quality. One.Be.Lo is obviously the star, and he demonstrates superior mic skills, as well as a jaded, wise point of view of the world. He speaks his mind in creative and refreshing ways, without the slightest mention of booty calls or bling-bling. He is an important, and frequently absent, voice in hip-hop, and this record reflects that perfectly. "S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M." is for those who believe that there is more to the culture than what is found on television, and those who want twenty-two tracks of one of the purest emcees out today.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 8, 2005