Quiet as kept Sankofa has been building up quite a reputation in underground hip-hop. "Still Means Something" caught me by surprise last year with complex and well thought out lyrics, and this year he took it to another level with the critically acclaimed "Tortoise Hustle" album. As I was sorting through my stack of unreviewed albums from 2007 (believe me we try to get to them all but the amount of ish that comes out every month is ridiculous) I came across this curious Sankofa album titled "The '06." The jacket is so thin I mistook it for a CD single at first - it's brown, very lightweight, and probably biodegradable to boot. Looking up the album on iTunes or Windows Media Player was useless - neither one knew this Sankofa release exists. The album itself isn't much help, as 16 tracks are listed when you pop it in your PC but only seven songs are listed on the back and they're numbered 1-8, skipping over 3 for no discernible reason.
The mystery becomes a little more clear with closer examination. The hand-labelled CD inserted in the sleeve comes wrapped with a note reading "Congratulations, you got one of the 60. Hope you dig it." One of the 60? Oh shit. It appears this is another one of those limited print run albums Double R gets from time to time. I always find the concept curious as clearly the artists want publicity for these albums yet consumers are not going to be able to find the shit in stores. The only sound explanation is that the artists are counting on the "buzz factor" that limited releases create, hoping that message boards and blogs will forever discuss an impossibly hard to find album and keep said artist's name out there in trendy circles. At some point someone who actually owns a rare copy will rip it and post it, the previously limited edition will be widely bootlegged, and the buzz only increases more. RapReviews.com readers are going to have to accept my apologies in advance - I won't be the 1 out of 60 that posts it. Intentionally or not I'm helping Sankofa with the buzz factor because if you want to hear it you'll have to search around on Google and try to find it yourself.
Now to get down to brass tacks it appears '06 and 60 are perfectly reverseable as far as this album is concerned, as track #8 reads "Ognihs" on the cover but if you flip it backwards "Shingo" becomes apparent. We've reviewed Shing02 on this site before, but it's also possible Sankofa means the village which claims to be the last resting place of Jesus, or even professional wrestler Shingo Takagi. You can never be quite sure where Sankofa's head is at, as he follows in the Aesop Rock and Sage Francis tradition of caching multiple layers of meaning in his lyrics then letting you sort out his intentions. The one thing that's absolutely clear is that Sankofa recorded this album live in concert, performing in front of an enthusiastic crowd who either knew him well or had themselves heard the buzz about his top notch rhymes.
Essentially the track names and numbers are as irrelevant as Sankofa made them by not including them - the first 10 tracks are a performance meant to be enjoyed in its entirety. The rest of the album appears to be unreleased Sankofa material the rapper just said "WTF" to and threw on the CD. There are some plusses and minuses to this idea - it's cool to hear these songs but it sucks to know nothing about them since they are unnamed and there are no liner notes to speak of. Also I feel it's fair to note that even if this album had received widespread distribution it still would have been for a very niche audience. Sankofa's name has buzzed enough to make "The Tortoise Hustle" crack many lists for the best of 2007 but he's also playing to an audience largely disenfranchised from mainstream hip-hop. Millions of people buy Jay-Z or Soulja Boy but an indie artist is often happy to crack 10K. Sankofa's voice also takes a little getting used to even at the best of times and if you've never heard him before a live performance would definitely not be the place to start. It's a shame that "The '06" is a limited release many people may not hear but it's also fair to say that even Sankofa would admit "The '06" is only for his hardcore fans and it would seem RapReviews.com is among 60 or less people currently in that group. In time that group will undoubtedly expand.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: December 18, 2007