I know that Midwest states like Illinois and Missouri are generating their share of artists, but before I got this disc to review, the only thing I knew about hip-hop in Kansas was that Mac Dre got shot there. New Life Ryders is New Life Record's attempt to put Kansas on map, coming straight out of Wichita with 18 tracks of independent street anthems.
This project is headed by Scott "Bilistic" al-Tall, an emcee who has been making waves in the Wichita, KS area for a few years, putting out two self-released albums and opening for the likes of Bone Thugs-n-Hrmony and ODB. The New Life Ryders are made up of a stable of artists, including Bilistic, Komplx, Gash, Xcuses, Breeze Blanco, Kritikal Kaution, Insane Capone, Bri J, J-Wes, Emcee Stove, and Undrell. Bilistic and Komplix are featured most heavily, and stood out from the rest. Bilisitc has a decent flow, obviously influenced by Tech N9ne's rapid-fire verse. Komplx has a deep, slightly goofy voice not unlike Aesop Rock or Eminem in one of his lighter moods. The rest of the crew were competent, with no one really standing out to me as being either incredible or terrible.
The liner notes spell out New Life Records mission statement clearly: "We Are the most diverse, most talented independent record label on the face of the earth. We are here to change the up in 2007 and show the world that hip hop comes in all colors and from all regions." After listening to the album, I'm not sure I totally agree with them. The album starts with dramatic synthesized strings and a female singer chanting "They don't know who we are/ Let's let 'em know who we are". Then Bilistic comes in rapping:
"I'm gonna tell you I am I'm on my way to being famous
Everyone blames this on a shameless situation that I'm patiently waiting
I'm telling you that I'm a fucking grizzly out of hibernation"
Bilistic and the Ryders show some lyrical finesse, but the song is fairly forgettable, by-numbers gangsta rap, as are several tracks on the album, including the posse cut "Stand Down", party tracks like "Our Fiesta" "Roll With Me" and "Rolling V.I.P.", and gangsta fantasies like "Murder on My Mind" and "Our Block". They aren't terrible, but they aren't good enough to warrant repeated listens.
The beats are an issue throughout the disc. All of the songs seem to have been constructed with a keyboard and ProTools, and the synths often sound cheesy. I'm not a fan of this synthesized style of beatmaking, and even less so when the production values are cranked down a notch, as they are here. The drums lack any real bottom, and the whole thing could use a serious infusion of funk and bass.
Still, there are also some solid tracks here that prove that these guys have some genuine skills. On "Why Am I", Komplx, channeling Eminem, asks:
"Why am I so evil? So lethal?
So prone to cock the eagle and lock shots at a lot of people?
Why am I so heartless?
My hardships are out of this world even for Martians cruising the galaxy in their starships
Why am I a starving artist, and not successful?
Why am I unable to live up to my full potential?
Why must I stay hungry, grungy and grubby?
My lack of money has made me deceitful, violent and ugly
Why doesn't God love me?
And what did I do to make Him shun me, and what can I do to make Him cease to begrudge me?
Why does my life seem to be out of my hands?
Death could creep up at any moment to spoil my future plans"
Other standout tracks for me include the club anthem "She Want It" with its sped-up dancehall sample, the nostalgic and soulful "1 of These Days", and the lazy, rolling "Get Rich." The beats on these tracks are above average, and the New Life Ryders sound like they are being real rather than just rehashing clichés.
The strength of the New Life Riders is that even on their mediocre tracks, they are earnest, hungry, and demonstrate some skills. I'm not a massive fan of this disc, but they definitely have talent, and I admire their dedication to the game. Fans of Midwest hip hop might want to cop this. If Wichita doesn't end up becoming the next Houston or Atlanta, it isn't because the New Life Ryders aren't trying.
Music Vibes: 5.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: July 3, 2007