Hip-hop is packed with stories coming from unlikely places, but Blood of Abraham's debut trumps nearly all. Originally discovered by Eazy-E for Ruthless Records, the duo of Benyad and Mazik suddenly found themselves in front of a gang truce concert hosted by Eazy, performing in front of a divided sea of red and blue. Though their career with Ruthless ended when Eazy departed, their oft-forgotten album "Future Profits" remains as their legacy in hip-hop, and their success that night in L.A. was the beginning to a delayed but still breathing career. Twelve years after their debut, Blood of Abraham has returned with "EyeDollarTree," a conceptual record on Basement Records.
Blood of Abraham has always drawn inspiration from their backgrounds. Benyad is a mix of Moroccan and Jewish heritage, and Mazik is Irish and Jewish. "Future Profits" contained such commentaries as "Niggaz and Jewz," but their new effort marks significant growth musically and lyrically. The duo has crafted an intricate, deadly serious record. The lyrical themes as well as the musical melodies are hidden so that multiple listens will reveal surprising depth.
The production on "EyeDollarTree" is the absolute driving force, a tempered barrage of a contained variety of noises. There is plenty to relax into, starting with the calm bass foundation. The combined efforts of Benyad, Mazik, and Will.I.am hug the vocals without feeling forced, sharing a supporting role equally with the words. "Know the Half" acts as the opener, and the momentum of the track is provided from a soft, distorted sitar. The hook, uttered with melodic care, is supplemented by humming female voices. As a full song, the instrumentation stutters slightly, but as a lush introduction to this musical cornucopia, "Know the Half" is ideal.
The first half of the album is far superior as a strictly hip-hop record, and "Only the Wise" is the best representation of this. The beat feels bare amongst this collection, but a variety of background elements climb up and out from the foundation. The hook is the centerpiece, a "hey hey hey" cry that strikes as almost taunting. The vocals on the record are complex but only vaguely ominous instead of inciting, which is not actually detrimental to the album as a whole. The most resonant moments, such as the aforementioned chorus, create transcendence between rap music and pure melody. The vocals are delivered with more emotion than strength, which is alternately frustrating and suitable. "Paranoia is Awareness," with a promising title, shows hope with the delivery of lines like "the government should hand out free shampoo with their conditioning." Most of the rhymes within the song, however, simply reinforce the already paranoid while inspiring disbelief in the doubters.
Another standout arrives near the midpoint with the splendid "Tion." Though not more complex than the other offerings, the music is accented by a far deeper bass. Another sitar loop is dragged out, providing an empty, hollow sound to ride along with the bassline. The rhymes stand out because of the duo's exceptional sense of rhythm within their respective voices, which allows them to perform the hooks themselves without any trouble. "Calling All Citizens" realizes this phenomenon fully, eschewing rapping completely in favor of several choruses, making for another excellent moment on the LP. The incidentally titled "Hurricane" actually provides a rich metaphor within the context of the album's political musings, albeit accidentally. The community's rage surrounding the events following Hurricane Katrina is a logical tie-in on such a political record, even though the metaphor was obviously not intended. Unfortunately the song is rather forgettable, with rich instrumentation becoming lost in the somewhat strange attempts at abstract poetry.
"EyeDollarTree" falters in the second half because of a slight lack of truly compelling music. Benyad and Mazik are adequate lyricists and spread intriguing thoughts throughout the record, but the memorable tracks are all owed to the layered, catchy, and unique music behind them. A few productions toward the end lose their beauty with repeated listens, and an absence of memorable hooks hurts the cause as well. The hook on "Giant Midgets" expounds on the dichotomy in the title, but the subtle messages can be interpreted in various ways, which leaves too many doors open. The title track allows us a glimpse into the concept of the record, stating "keep your eye on the dollar falling from my tree, subconscious, subliminal idolatry." This actually frames the lyrical content of the album quite nicely, but the message is still too blurred to be inspired. The ideas they present us with are wonderful, and those who dig abstract rhymes will be in heaven. For the rest of us, though, it's a bit much for an entire record.
Regardless of rhyming preference, "EyeDollarTree" is still a nice record because of the beautiful musical tapestries laid over each song. The production is unified and distinct on a track-by-track basis. The problems Blood of Abraham encounters are a result of their brilliance in places, because the standards are set too high for subsequent songs to stand. "Omegaton," the closer with Divine Styler and Kool Keith, contains switches in production, but the ambitious melodies are just not quite as searing as the true highs of the record. Of course, the rhymes are not sub-par by any standards, but despite their comfortable fit within the music, the production is what will have you picking "EyeDollarTree" back up. Even on a lesser song, there is enough going on to merit many listens, and the depth of the record is provided almost solely through these means.
What Benyad and Mazik have accomplished here is remarkable because of their history, but "EyeDollarTree" is simply an excellent record with plenty of material that can't be ignored. Complete, involving concept albums are hard to come by, and one with the musical dexterity of this one cannot be missed. Hopefully they won't take another twelve years off, but if they do, the next installment in 2017 should be mighty nice as well.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: September 20, 2005