Above Ave. appears to have begun out of San Francisco before relocating to San Diego where they are based out of today. I made the mistake of identifying their geographic location as Detroit when they only feature a prominent Detroit artist (Royce Da 5'9") and a well-known producer (Mr. Porter) on their EP. The members of AA originate from areas as divergent as Hartford (Chec), Puerto Rico (BB and El Triqueno), San Francisco (Ess Eff, M.C. and FrontLYne), Washington D.C. (Loose) and Somewhere in California (U.F.O.)
They do appear to have a strong love for the Detroit sound as evidenced by the fact that Mr. Porter produced 4 of the 6 songs on the "Glimpse" EP and Royce Da 5'9" appears on the first two songs. Royce does the chorus for "What It's About" and delivers a verse on the second song "The Authentic". That is not a bad sound to follow. I have always felt that the music out of Detroit was some of the freshest in hip-hop and it is remarkably "under-the-radar" for a scene that is bursting with talent in front of the microphone AND in front of the boards.
The question here is with all of this musical firepower, how does Above Ave. do on delivering the goods and branding themselves? My answer to that is that, though the are obviously a group with talent and a real dedication to making their mark in this new-age rap game, they still have a ways to go as far as gaining that distinct glow about themselves.
Let's begin with the first track, "What It's About". The track (produced by Mr. Porter) has a Dillaesque overtone (something I would notice on his other productions throughout this EP). However, they possess the overtone without quite having the gritty bite that makes Dilla's best production the bangers that they are. The looping keyboard track, though not bad, just fails to excite the listener and get your head nodding. Some tracks can get away with looping the same few bars over and over again, this is not one of those tracks and the variety is missed. The lyrical performance for this song is much like the track – competent, yet it fails to move the listener on a deep level. It's fairly straight forward spitting with the absence of punchlines, memorable delivery or distinct flow.
The second track, "The Authentic", begins with a verse by M.C. His verse is the standard until Royce emerges on the second verse and delivers the most energetic and advanced verse on the track. I missed Royce on the track last time because his voice and M.C.'s voice sound so similar to each other. This time, I did not miss it and the difference is evident – immediately. M.C. possesses a similar voice to Royce Da 5'9", however Royce still takes the title by virtue of better wordplay and a flow that just commands more attention. The track (produced by Mr. Porter), once again, is a Dillaesque affair without the grit that provides that "dirt" factor that makes Dilla the official ambassador of the Detroit sound.
The third track, "Return of the Desperados" (produced by M.C.) is a minimalist affair which features a chopped sample of a single note of an acoustic guitar. Rule of thumb with minimalist produced songs is that something in the song has to fill out the record when you elect to not use sounds that would usually fill out the track. This track seems as if it is the beginning of a nice track, but it could sure use some reinforcements. The vocals for the song is not compelling enough to provide the "bounce" factor necessary to transcend the lack of music on the track.
The remainder of the EP seems to follow the same path: beats that are good, but just don't knock enough to make you want to ride to them and vocals that are not bad, but not good enough to make you really want to scan back and pay CLOSE attention to what the rappers are saying. With that I will end this review by saying it is not that the rappers are bad, they are not. It is not that the production is bad, it isn't. It's just that it is all so, well, average and Above Ave. seems as if they DO have the talent to push beyond what I just heard. I KNOW they do because I listened to a song called "Imagine Revisited" on one of their MySpace pages and heard a FAR MORE substantial vocal performance than what I heard on here.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: March 4, 2008
REVISED: March 11, 2008