The explosion of the digital age, marked by the rapid growth of the Internet over the past two decades, has forever changed the music industry. Some of these changes are obvious, ranging from the emergence of online music stores to the increased ease with which artists can reach thousands of their fans at once with new releases and up to the minute news. One of the more overlooked consequences, though, is that the Internet removes the geographical boundaries that previously hampered collaboration, allowing artists who live in completely different states or even countries to connect and share music. 20 years ago, an album like "Crossing the Globe" would most likely never even make it to the development stage, as it would be nearly impossible for the New York-based emcee L.I.F.E. Long to link up with Swedish producer Big Ape. After first talking online in 2004, the duo was eventually able to meet up in New York, and although they originally planned to team up for only one song, they quickly decided to pursue a full-length album.
In many ways, despite their vastly different locales, L.I.F.E. Long and Big Ape's musical styles are well-suited for one another. Although he has never managed to reach the mainstream spotlight, L.I.F.E. Long has been rhyming for over 15 years – he lists Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa as his original influences – and he brings an old-school mentality to the mic that gives him the steady and sure delivery of a veteran. And while I normally don't like to make sweeping comparisons of underground artists to hip-hop legends, many of Big Ape's beats take on somewhat of a DJ Premier vibe. This is not to suggest, of course, that the instrumentals on "Crossing the Globe" approach the quality of those coming from one of the greatest producers of all time, but there is no denying that there are a few similarities. For starters, Big Ape scratches in hip-hop lyrics from several different artists to form the chorus on a number of tracks, and it's always refreshing to hear a producer pay homage to songs from hip-hop's golden age. Second, just as DJ Premier embodies the idea that simpler is generally better, Big Ape often uses a few carefully chopped samples and other instruments to lay the foundation for the track, letting the samples play off one another to create a melody.
L.I.F.E. Long's lyrics and Big Ape's production aren't always a perfect match, but there are times when the chemistry between them is readily apparent, and the result is a handful of tracks that stand out above the rest. "Samurai Code of Honor" is perhaps the most polished and complete song, as the funky harp-like pluck and soft horns combine with the crisp drum loop to form a beat that sounds like it belongs on a GZA or Inspectah Deck album. L.I.F.E. Long kicks off the first verse, rapping "No time to slack, street hot as deserts in Iraq/ Critical times, spiritual minds, so many pitiful raps/ Spit a few rhymes to smack you over-analytical cats," and Prince Po and U.G. each deliver a quality guest verse to round things out. Then there's the equally smooth "Snake Charmer," with sweeping violin strings and what sounds like a xylophone sample anchoring the track. L.I.F.E. Long displays his knack for storytelling as he raps all three verses, opening the second with:
"I know this chick around the way, Stacey
Grimy female, used to boost gear out of Macy's
But that was in her younger years
Now she's older in the club sippin' beers
Rockin' tight clothes to expose her breasts and rear
Hopin' she could win a man with a career
She'd trip for dollars, fake orgasms and holler
Even though she got two baby fathers"
While L.I.F.E. Long shines on both songs, there are other moments where he comes up just short, and despite maintaining a steady and confident flow he sometimes lacks the lyrical complexity needed to boost the song over the hump. "The Journey" is a catchy track overall, as the strings and grand piano keys give the beat a vibrant feel, and features a great scratched-in chorus from Big Ape, but L.I.F.E. Long fails to fully grab the listener's attention with his story of coming up in the rap game and developing as an emcee. Soon, though, it becomes clear that he is not the only part of the duo to grow repetitive as the album progresses, as Big Ape seems to confine himself to a similar range of samples and sounds across most of the tracks. "Begintro" has the energy of a head-bobber, but the pulsing synth and deep brassy horns soon grow irritating, and L.I.F.E. Long's lyrics are unable to compensate for these shortcomings. Other songs, such as "Kick It" and "Carnival Carnivore Flow Attraction," have a repetitive feel and lack the crisp and authentic sound present on the album's few stand out tracks. While the frequent guest appearances help break things up and offer some variation, the result is not always positive. The sample-driven "Travelin'," for example, is marred by two unimpressive verses from Respect the God and Sip Liq, whose rhymes sound rushed when compared with L.I.F.E. Long's more relaxed flow.
Top to bottom, while "Crossing the Globe" certainly has its moments, the album as a whole fails to establish itself as anything other than an average underground release. L.I.F.E. Long and Big Ape each show flashes of brilliance, only to overshadow these occurrences with a lackluster performance on the next track that brings the album back down to earth. There is no denying that the duo exhibits a significant amount of chemistry, as L.I.F.E. Long's steady delivery meshes with Big Ape's simplistic style of production, but there are certain tracks that simply lack the creativity needed to warrant more than a few listens. Fans of golden-age hip-hop will undoubtedly want to check out the album's lead single, "Samurai Code of Honor," and browse through a few other cuts, but should temper their expectations for the remainder of the album and understand that the few highlights are not necessarily indicative of the rest of the tracks.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: November 15th, 2011