If the sound of the Wu-Tang Clan could be blended with the militancy of Public Enemy, the result would be the duo of Quest-Rah and Scarab. The two British emcees have come together for their first commercial release as a tandem, titled "Red Alert." If these two were trying to ring the proverbial alarm with this effort then they succeeded in their task. The group is armed with beats that echo Rza from the Wu's golden era, and Quest-Rah and Scarab spit flows in the same politically minded vein as dead prez. "Red Alert" is a stellar debut from a pair of rappers that care about the world they live in and aren't afraid to raise their voices.
Ominous strings and random flute samples coalesce into abstract art on the album's opener, "From The Ground & Back." Flashbacks of sounds from "Liquid Swords" and "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" naturally come to mind from the chaotic order that Quest-Rah's production style exudes. Quest-Rah also proves to be a unique emcee, spitting about his disdain for "ignorant" professors and scholars that believe in Darwinism and the Theory Of Evolution. He even goes so far as to call them "transgressors," a word chosen that reflects the Muslim faith the duo practices.
The album's resemblance to vintage Wu-Tang records is even more evident on "The Modern Day." Not only is 6th Mental's rugged instrumental infused by intimidating guitar strums, but the group also threw in sounds of karate-flick fights right before the song, an obvious nod to the Wu. Both emcees bring more of the same rebel rap to combine with the album's most outstanding beat. Scarab goes off on this track's latter half, rapping an extended metaphor about the world we live in that evolves into a tirade denouncing a certain advisor in the White House.
"Ayo, they call her the New World
It's nothing changed
Only back then
She was just a little girl in pigtails...
A killer with a smile so innocent
Condoleeza loved the candy stick
With the world at her fingertips
Crowned queen of her domain
Such is the level of depth that Quest-Rah and Scarab inject into their rhymes. Not only does the group display potential because of their lyrics, but the tandem also exhibits a solid chemistry. They're not on the level of say, Q-Tip and Phife yet, but they do complement each other very well. A more reasonable comparison would be between them and the boys from Camp Lo. Both groups spit at tongue-twisting levels that make them harder to understand, yet the same flaw adds to the charm and intrigue surrounding their styles. While they're easier to comprehend than Camp Lo and use different vernacular, their lyrics already have a higher poetic value.
What this promising duo needs to work on is keeping focus of the audience for an entire LP. A track like" Advanced Artillery," with its bare-bones production, doesn't sound good when its paired with lyrics that include no chorus. Granted, Scarab continues to flow flawlessly, except that at this point the album starts to become a chore to listen to instead of an enjoyment. I was so caught up with trying to decipher every dime of dropped knowledge that it became difficult to just sit and vibe to the album. Even classics like Illmatic had a listenable quality that allowed Nasir's jewels to flow into the song.
These are small mistakes, however, considering "Red Alert" is only eight songs deep. Quest-Rah and Scarab prove their creative talent by flipping the Biggie classic "What's Beef" into "What's Peace." In the same format in which Diddy listed the characteristics of hood drama, Quest-Rah outlines the traits of a utopian society that we can only dream of.
Peace is when there's justice in the streets
Peace is when everybody eats
Peace is when I pray to the east
And lay my head to rest when I sleep"
The additional vocals by Paul Mirage match up with song's dream-like sonic background, complete with a subtle guitar and strings. Here the group exhibits that listenable quality previously mentioned, where the listener still needs to think to absorb the song's message, but is allowed to nod their heads while doing so.
"Calm Before The Storm" is a grand finale to an album with a fresh point of view. The dreamland sound from "What's Peace" seamlessly transitions into this track, which features the use of a harp and a heavenly sped-up vocal sample. The instrumental is morphed into a darker sound when Scarab gets on the mic as the same sample is given a deeper tone. This change makes the song feel like a journey between the rappers' two different perspectives, and is a though-provoking end to an intellectual album.
"Red Alert" is a release that should garner Quest-Rah and Scarab attention, not just in their native Great Britain, but overseas, as well. The production was lacking on a few tracks, but nevertheless this is a group that has the ability to create a niche for themselves in the U.S. hip-hop market. At the very least, some Americans will relate to their hatred for U.S. foreign policy, which is illustrated by several subtle jabs at President Bush. What hip-hop heads should hope for, at best, is a pair of new voices in the genre, two souls willing to examine the ills of the world from another part of the globe.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: December 5, 2006