Hip-hop is ever-expanding, with an underground web that has reached nearly every corner of the nation, not to mention other countries. The land that birthed the music is far from drying up, though, as New York City is still the cultural capital of rap music. Great emcees are emerging everywhere, but no other city's fanbase can even fathom having the national successes that New York has provided. In the city, it has always been only the most talented and complete emcees that could rise from the masses to establish solid careers.
Getting some well-known personnel on one's side never hurts an artist's resumé, and Access Immortal is set in this regard. Hailing from Bed-Stuy, he made a name for himself locally, and plenty of people noticed. The real buzz began with a mixtape called "9th Gate," with the production laced by underground favorite 9th Wonder. Somewhere along the way, he got signed by Early Spotter Records and hooked up talent like J-Zone and 7L, along with his man Vanderslice, for production.
Access Immortal begins the disc right with the energetic "Authentic Made" featuring Breez Evahflowin and Smiley the Ghetto Child. The production is anything but amped, so the words contrast sharply with the faintly bouncy piano loop. The choice to let someone else open the record is an odd one, though, and Smiley steals the shine with a vicious verse:
"Y'all niggas like...
Breakfast muffins, soft and sweet
No type of technique to keep this gutter and street
Dropped my first single, sold out in a week
Smoked with Biggie and Pac, may they rest in peace
Without y'all this game is watered down and weak"
The anger in his voice is far more powerful than anything he says, but Access Immortal's following verse, while perfectly sufficient, lacks the urgency that Smiley brings.
"Get What You Deserve" is another nice posse cut, this time assisted by Substantial, Karniege, and Breez Evahflowin. A vibrant trumpet loop, though a bit repetitive, provides an ideal backdrop for each rapper to take his turn, and a perfectly chosen Guru vocal sample bridges each verse. No one really kills it, but it is a nice collaboration nonetheless. "Born in the Ghetto" has an understated piano sample courtesy of Sesion 31, and Access Immortal demonstrates a smooth flow over the slightly uptempo track. He doesn't always have anything creative or unique to say, but he quietly makes his presence known.
Over seventeen tracks, there is little variation to the production, but this does not hurt the replay value at all. Vanderslice relies on subtlety with his use of melody, and the tempo to nearly every song is laid-back as well. The touching "My Testimony" is the best example of this decision, as well as Access Immortal's intent throughout most of the record. He effortlessly mixes braggadocio and personal insight, which doesn't always work as well as he might like. The effect his less focused rhymes have, however, is to make him seem more diverse as an artist than he actually is. He discusses the past frequently, but usually not in the context of exploring his growth as much as to talk about his life. He kicks battle rhymes with ease on the same song, as well, which muddles his messages a bit but also makes the material more interesting. Considering that he hardly ever says anything fresh or important, he reaches a surprising level of success on "Shades of Reality."
"Bust My Gun" is an unfortunate waste, because Green Steez hooks up a melancholy beat that is not matched by Access Immortal's inconsequential hook. "I'm not a revolutionist but if I was I'd have to bust my gun" simply doesn't say anything about him as an artist, as bad as he wants it to. The following "Monday Night Raw" has similar results because of his performance over a classic J-Zone beat. He seems to just be rearranging ideas that have been in hip-hop for years and rephrasing them in his own way. The monotonous rhymes he presents are in sharp contrast to the constantly morphing production.
Aside from these lyrical misfires, the second half of the album is mostly worthwhile. "The General" stands out because of a different production style implemented by 7L, and Access Immortal seems invigorated by the switch in sound. The rhymes are a bit cliché at times throughout "Shades of Reality," but the most blatant example of this comes with the hook for "Shallow Graves," which asks a series of "serious" questions that don't really mean anything. The most bothersome is a reference to Bush knocking down the towers. I'm as big a Bush-hater as anyone, but as with Jadakiss' "Why," nothing is accomplished with a question. I'd love to hear someone eloquently explain why they ask, but Access Immortal seems to be content simply bringing it up so that he appears to know the answer.
"Shades of Reality" is a very solid record, especially for a debut. Access Immortal struggles a bit creating his own identity, but he is fairly proficient on the mic. As with nearly any artist, there are moments during which he shines and times that he doesn't fare as well. Stepping out of the usual thematic content is very rare in hip-hop, and only the most riveting voice can be completely successful without being creative. Immortal is not the most powerful emcee, so he must learn to kick something different than the next man once in a while. He does execute his rhymes better than most, though, and he does it over production that is consistently dope. As his first record, "Shades of Reality" promises that great things are ahead.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: May 3, 2005