This is one of those classic "bad news/good news" situations. The bad news for Joseph 'Inno' Alvarez is that we missed the deadline for his Kickstarter project, which came almost three months ago. I accept my role in that I kept setting aside the album for review multiple times, although an unassuming green school folder with the album's title hand-written on the front didn't get my ass in gear nor make me want to mail it to a writer who I assumed (right or wrong) would pass on reviewing it. The GOOD news is that he did indeed meet his goals on the Kickstarter project, exceeding the $10,000 in funding he needed with only 59 backers, which I find incredibly impressive. That actually encouraged me to give the album in this green folder a spin - that and Inno's comment that "any review even after the deadline would still be helpful."
Before we get any further into this review though, I still have to get into the whole "what not to do" facts for artists with albums they'd like to get reviewed, even as I know that in an increasingly digital age many of the things I'm about to say no longer apply. Regardless let me point out three things Inno did that you don't want to do if you're sending your album to a magazine, blog, website or music critic. One has already been noted above - you've got to be a little slicker than a green school folder you can buy at the dollar store. Appearances shouldn't count, but let's be honest when you've got a slick looking press kit versus something that seems half-heartedly handmade, you'll open the slick one first to see what's inside. Secondly let's all stop calling things a "mixtape" when they're really not. The word "mixtape" is now being horribly abused, thrown around as a substitute for "I'm giving it away for free." An album is an album. A mixtape is a MIX. What Inno sent me is an ALBUM and I'm treating it as such. Last but not least, and this is the most important, SEGMENT YOUR TRACKS. One track 40 minutes long just doesn't work.
If Mr. Alvarez is still reading at this point, he may be thinking I'm about to drop a mierda all over "Awaiting the Arrival." Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the flaws in this press kit and its presentation, I can actually see why Inno was able to find enough backers to meet his Kickstarter funding goal. There's a deep rooted sincerity and honesty to this project, meant to promote his plan to release an album called "When We Arrive…" that speaks to his dual heritage as both Americano y Chicano. Inno feels his generation is the first to experience total assimilation into American society, although I'd argue what's actually happening is that the Hispanic population is becoming something other than the minority it has been historically been perceived to be. In ten to twenty years, it's the gringo who is going to have to assimilate.
Though the lack of segmentation of tracks on "Awaiting the Arrival" makes the CD itself more difficult, Inno's YouTube channel makes up for this shortcoming, and conveniently also allows me to share some of his music with you. The one thing that this "mixtape" has in common with many similarly named products is that it is an album that promotes the emcee's skills using beats that are not wholly original. With songs like "When the Light Went Out" I find that easy to forgive, because this is the kind of daring narrative more rappers ought to try. In a hip-hop culture that too often chooses glorifying misogyny over celebrating a woman's beauty, Inno takes a chance and raps about an unwanted and violent sexual encounter that happens in an abusive relationship, with the woman being so psychologically tortured that she blames herself for it happening.
"Now she sits in her room
I think a lot of emcees would have to consider how casually they throw around the word "bitch" after listening to a song like this, which is probably why most of them won't. I'm not saying it can't be humorous, or that women don't use it just as much as men do, but that songs like "When the Light Went Out" should make us all think carefully about the casual disregard for women too often embraced by rap's top stars. More than anything else what impresses me about Inno is that he is a thinking man's emcee. This is not party music, although some of it does have banging beats, even if they are borrowed. Inno's "mixtape" does borrow from some of the best, sampling from Black Milk for "The Fire," and sampling from ELO on "Movement," and to his credit notes all of the samples in the liner notes of his exhaustive press kit. When taken as a whole the conclusion I come to is that Inno may not have started out looking like a million bucks, but he's got raw rookie potential to be a force in hip-hop music if only someone can help him get to the next level - and at least 59 people decided to give him that chance.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: June 5th, 2012