Tacoma, Washington based rapper Shao Sosa (pronounced the same way as "Shaolin") has a short bio on his ReverbNation landing page. Even as short as the info about him is we'll more than double the length of this opening paragraph by including it here: "Hailing from the Tri-Cities in southeastern Washington State, Shaolin has made a strong buzz over a long underground career with fierce lyrics and poignant self analysis. He has worked with some of the biggest names in West Coast Hip Hop and created a solid foundation built from hard work and dedication. Come see what your favorite Northwest rapper already knows."
On the cover of "The Gateway Drug" our hero-to-be has a Matrix choice waiting for us - his drug is the "red pill" that will reveal the truth of the world we know... or perhaps it's just clever marketing. I'm not finding any revelations of great importance in the 17 tracks comprising "The Gateway Drug," just a strong Asian and Pacific Northwest pride on songs like "Enjoy the Show":
"See, over time I concocted a mixture
Throughout the metronome I'm on time with the Richter
Seismic flows with a Heisman pose
When the world shake your boy seeing arrival of those
Vietnam shrew who'll get North Vietnam cool
Call me, Flow Chi Minh, I'm the horns of the bull
Pull your whole card, leave you scorned to the full
Northwest to the gang, grab the +Pot+ like +Harry+
I'm Shaun Alexander, I get all the carries"
I count that pride as two positives for Shao Sosa right away when tallying up my feelings about "The Gateway Drug." Another positive is the production throughout the CD - not blow away outstanding, but far from horrible and unlistenable. The cool On One produced swing of "Everything" gives Shao a latino sound not unlike Baby Bash. The heavy symphonics he provides on "1,2 (Yes Y'all)" also connect to the eardrum nicely. Charlie Ray gives a more Asian sound to the appropriately titled "Kiss of the Dragon" but avoids turning Shao into an Asian stereotype. Nuno TMP licks the guitar and keeps the drums simple but hard on the anthemic "Rally." Tyrant may have found Shao's crossover hit on "Real Good Time" and On One comes correct once again for the uplifting feel of "And You Know This." He's definitely the diamond in the rough out of Shao's many contributors.
With all the plus marks in the column on Shao Sosa's "The Gateway Drug" it's almost a shame to mention the minuses, but it wouldn't be an honest review without them. Shao Sosa is trying hard to be taken seriously here - so hard you start to get the feeling he's verbally constipated and the shit is about to explode at any moment. It's not that good tension you get from an intense verse by Gift of Gab or Immortal Technique, it's that bad "OMG if people don't love me now I'll just DIE" kind of tension. He honestly needs to relax before he gives himself a heart attack. It also affects his ability to flow, because he stays stuck on cruise control in his tempo and breath control, afraid to take risks. It means he doesn't really fuck up badly, but he never comes across very boldly either. The music helps carry him through when you lose interest in his flow, but the two should work together instead of having to prop each other up so they don't fall down. "The Gateway Drug" shows Shao Sosa has a lot of promise, but he also has a lot of work to do to get better.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: March 22nd, 2011