Almost exactly a year ago, I was on location at a video shoot that one of my friends (who was part of the group) was starring in. A few of us went along for support, and the exhausting shoot lasted 14 hours – after which, one of the group members insisted that we go along to some shitty club. Luckily, we managed to dust from the place within an hour, as we were all approaching zombie status. So it is 2am and we are all crashing at my friend's yard – all extremely tired and all ready to catch some well-deserved Z's... When someone asked an innocuous question about hip hop being 'dead' (a full eight months after the Nas album, but we hadn't seen each other that year). Needless to say, all hell broke loose, and we all stayed up until 7:30am talking/discussing/debating/arguing about hip hop. It was, without doubt, one of the greatest nights of my life.
There were five of us sitting around the dining table, eating and drinking the night away, whilst fighting our corners for what we believed in. Here are some of the topics that we covered:
"Eminem has nothing on Canibus
Who killed Biggie? (Answer's surprising
included Puffy and Jay-Z "having the most to gain")
Why the UK hip hop scene STILL hadn't gone mainstream
How wack The Source had got at reviewing
How Lil Wayne was the worst rapper alive
Which was the better era – 1988 or 1994...?"
Getting the idea? You name it, we covered it – like an annual Hip Hop Summit meeting, it was all-encompassing. It was the fifth point that was most inflammatory, however – one of the guys kept picking on one wack line that Lil Wayne had spit, and basing an entire argument on that lyric. His point basically revolved around the first 'Golden Age' of hip hop (circa 1988) being untouchable, and that everything since then wasn't "real." Many regrettable things were said that night – one of the five members called women "stupid" for buying hip hop that insulted and degraded them. I remember telling someone that they hated on everyone so much, they were "starting to sound like the Mad Rapper." The Lil Wayne-hater was the exact target market for Saint and his album. Similar in style to another Pro Se group, Zimbabwe Legit, think lush grooves, boom bap rap and Golden Age music updated to '08. Add some excellent lyrics to that little mix and we're good to go.
Not that you would know it from the opening track – even if the lines are clever, the topic matter is inane (rims, paper, women) and hovering over a lazy beat... Until the end of the track comes, and you realise that Saint is playing you for a FOOL and simply making fun of what he considers a nonsensical rap landscape. More to the point, around the halfway point, he just "Can't Relate" to what rappers write about nowadays – and this gives the clearest insight of the artist's ambitions on "About Time." Having listened thoroughly to the Zimbabwe Legit album, strong though it was, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that musically, the Saint album (which he produced in its entirety) possesses a much wider scope – take, for example, "How Are You?" with its indie tendencies, and the lush R&B of "If You Would Just..." featuring the excellent Honey Larochelle. This album may plant musical roots in the first Golden Age, but it isn't held down by them, as it reaches for the sunlight of its own accord. The beats having been crafted, not just thrown together, and Saint proves himself to be a genuinely talented producer – perhaps none of the beats are spectacular, but they are all accomplished and enjoyable.
As for Saint the MC, he may not have been blessed with a perfect and individual voice, but the lyrics are on point, as is the subject matter (which luckily doesn't descend into an hour-long rant at how "real" he is). At this point in his career, he sounds relaxed and at ease with himself: he isn't paralysed by a desperate need to impress everyone, so long as he makes himself happy. This album should make you happy too, due in part to a high consistency level, strong production and an MC that meshes into the music effortlessly. Another mark in its favour is that it UPDATES the Golden Age of hip hop, as opposed to mindlessly aping Big Daddy Kane and all those dudes – everything in life changes and moves forward, so why should hip hop be any different? Saint is an artist that knows when to stick, and when to twist – he isn't afraid to move out of his comfort zone when necessary, and that is something any aspiring artist can learn from.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: July 29, 2008