Lewis Parker's is a humbling presence. If you think you're dedicated to this hip-hop thing, I guarantee you that Lewis Parker is twice as dedicated. Commitment oozes out of every groove of his work. Everything he has to say is inextricably interwoven with hip-hop music. Greater success may have eluded him, and even knowledgeable discussions frequently omit his name, but this man is one of the most formidable delegates of hip-hop made in Britain. At the same time he's virtually an international man of hip-hop, born in London to Barbadian parents, growing up in Canterbury, relocating to London where as a teenager in the mid-'90s he released his first records, and finally returning home after a decade-plus stay in New York.
Lewis Parker is a quintessential producer/rapper whose professional pride demands that he raps over his own beats and that his beats are complemented by his own raps. He's a self-sufficient artist, and to a certain extent his music sounds accordingly. Opening up more than usual on key track "Hard Endeavour," he raps:
"Hate and envy grow like poison ivy
Situations stay dicey
Some see no escape and go out like Chris Lighty
Been on the low since I lost wifey
Beats define me
I'm knee-deep in these libraries"
Still he undertakes the endeavor. On the surface it may seem like Lewis Parker prefers a secluded lifestyle, "The Glass Ceiling" finding him in a contemplative mood throughout. In reality he is on a mission with a message. And make no mistake about it, this is rap music with potential majority appeal. Lewis Parker is not alone, he has many kindred spirits - every post-Tribe jazz-nurtured act, almost all of Canada's rap output, beatmakers around the world, etc. Even in these times you will find albums who operate under the same basic premises, such as Adrian Younge's collaborations with Ghostface Killah, which combine rap with the musical narratives of the 1960s and '70s.
"The Glass Ceiling" is not only chock-full of samples from that era, it also seeks nostalgic inspiration via artwork, name-dropping and an overriding secret service theme. Though Parker flirts with the conspiracy gimmick and inevitably gets tangled up across 30 tracks (Is this a spy thriller or a ghost story?), lyrically he makes remarkable sense throughout, going from "You chasin' pop fame / I'm a b-boy, I rock the break and maintain" to "The path of righteousness is a hard road to choose / But ignorance can only be bliss to fools" within just a few bars. While newer rappers think they can explain everything just by uttering the word 'Illuminati', he's already ahead of them due to his vocabulary, using terms like 'intrigue', 'Trojan Horse' or phrases like "A master illusionist wearing emperor's clothes." And unlike some colleagues who spout conspiracy theories, his speculations are actually measured, which gives them a realistic tendency:
"The New Age of Aquarius, the time of the water bearer
Slowly preparin' us for a new era
Interational terror, the game of fear
The magic game, the man who can disappear"
The retro background gives Parker's music an immediate touch of class. Vintage instruments straight out of soundtracks and scores (resilient drums, suspenseful horns, sentimental strings, feathery flutes) create a tangible tension. Yet he never fully goes score composer but rather works with a steady cinematic undercurrent. Even when the songs turn dramatic, they retain a distance. Altogether this is the work of a perfectionist, stunning the listener with its impeccable sound and well thought out structure again and again. Of the Adrian Younge comparison in particular he comes out the winner, as beats for tracks like "Behind Backs," "Race With the Devil" or "The Facts Remain" themselves are storytellers. Lewis Parker does the patron saints of this sound proud - K-Def, Lord Finesse, Buckwild (and by extension Ski, Minnesota, etc.). That East Coast sound ca. 1995-1998. Or think Alchemist's work on "Return of the Mac" but with more sophisticated drum programming, or Jay-Z revisiting "American Gangster."
Within the confines of his record crates, Lewis Parker is able to conjure up moods and also bring them to a closure. The way he breathes new life into vocals lifted from a forgotten Cool J soundtrack contribution and uses them for the metaphorically sound "Shark" is pure craftsmanship. LP's own syntax is basic, but there's regularly a stringent beauty to his observations: "Sea, sky and land / the most deadly predator is man / the killer with a weapon in his hand." He also knows how to end a song, generally a problem for hip-hop producers. All of this results in a number of cohesive songs like the beautiful relationship recap "Summer With Asakala," the self-explanatory "Alone Thoughts," or the majestic "Hard Endeavour." "Excursions" brings lush but bouncy production to perfection and tops it with rare biographical bits, "Illmatic" cuts and opening bars from guest John Robinson that very much apply to the host himself (who also dubs as The Man With the Golden Sound):
"What does it take to be golden?
It's more than the look of your book you write scrolls in
It's more like the nooks and the crevices no one goes in
And shine with design so cold, left 'em frozen"
"The Glass Ceiling (Main Theme)" and "Worldwide Assassination" bookend the album with broad surveys, the former setting the scene as Parker positions himself as a combative artist who faces "the death ride of reality" with his own strategy: "Beats hold me down like gravity / Orchestrate the sound masterfully." Anyone swearing they will not be fazed by Sadat X and Shabaam Sahdeeq features should check out the brilliant "Walking on a Razor (Part 2)" replete with musical action simmering just below the surface. He also doesn't hesitate to portray the hero in his own story, declaring, "I come to retrieve and restore / the true and pure / In the lab like a scientist refinin' the cure" in "World on My Shoulders," or delivering insurgent propaganda on "Words For the Boss," including the blunt finding that "hip-hop was made for all, but the man just out for his."
Lewis Parker's 2013 album presents ample evidence that he's a master producer with a distinct style. Plays staged in the sphere of espionage tend to look at the world from a very particular perspective. So does "The Glass Ceiling," but simultaneously Lewis Parker's adventures are an everyman tale we can relate to, especially since we naturally take interest in the things rappers go through. But even to those who don't feel like meddling with the headaches of hip-hoppers "The Glass Ceiling" will be a powerful statement overall, one that is very conscious of the potency of art. In the words of the artist:
"Sound and imagery can be used to persuade your mind
If you put a spin on the truth you get away with the crime
If the DJ know the time he pull it back for rewind"
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: November 17th, 2015