My first exposure to Encore was “Waterworld” off of the Handsome Boy Modeling School project. Between the eerie Automator/Prince Paul beat and Encore’s stellar performance, I figured there was no way I could possibly go wrong with an entire album from this guy. (To this day, “Waterworld” contains one of my favorite lines: “my scripts consist of H20/hip-hop and oxygen.”) So next time I found myself at my local record spot, I couldn’t help but cop it. “Self-Preservation” greatly dissapointed me when I first picked it up, but grew on me quickly.

I immediately got annoyed with Architect’s first two beats. For some reason, the strings in the intro just grated on me, and the synth horns behind “For You” made me want to punch the wall. Because of the annoying beat, I slept on “For You” for a long time. The third track, “Esoteric (Exec Anthem)” brought a nice flow, but Encore’s lyrics didn’t really impress me, as the only line that caught my ears was “my shit is crack rock held over volcanos,” and his delivery seemed too distant to hold my interest. The beat was atmospheric and interesting, so Architect did some good work, finally. However, yet another strike against Core is that his crew turns out to be named The Executive Lounge, and a really awful verse by someone who sounds like a very drunk Sir Menelink gave me my introduction to the kinds of guest spots I could expect on the rest of the album. The only thing I was happy about was the inclusion of Dr. Octagon’s “Blue Flowers” video (Encore is on 75 Ark, the Automator’s label), so I copied that onto my hard drive and prepared to sell.

Three songs into it, I felt like my purchase had been a big fat waste of cash. However, being a lazy, broke college student, I never really got a chance to get back up to Vintage Vinyl and I was determined to not have wasted fifteen bills. I put it on random and hoped that the streak of obnoxious beats, dissapointing lyrics and wack guest rappers would end. Track 4 showed up, “Love and Hate (The Mellow Drama).” I clenched my jaw, all ready for piercing horns or some other obnoxious to open the track, but, much to my surprise, I heard a very sweet piano loop and nice and minimalistic cuts. By bar four, when the beat switches up, Architect was my hero. Encore’s flow still didn’t particularly move me, but his delivery seemed to compliment the beat, and he did serve up a few gems, such as “so whether you clever or not/the emcee who rhyme tougher than leather plots/be blowing up the motherfucking spot.” You really can’t go wrong by saying you blow up the mufuckin spot. So, yes, we have a solid track, at long last.

The next track that came up was number 6, “.084.” The beat was nothing special, but much less obnoxious than the first two, so I was content. As Encore told a story of drunk driving and redemption, I finally was feeling his lyrics. Core is much more interesting when he’s actually saying something, I found out. Track 8, “E. T.” brought another annoying Architect beat, but I gave it a chance. I’m not sure about the first verse, but I’m sure the second verse is, I would assume, another member of The Exec Lounge, who pretty much redeems the whole crew. His name is Holocaust and he has just enough of an El-P influence to keep his style interesting, but not enough to bite. “We can go vocal to vocal plus two vocals/so I can put two swords in your head like the Oakland Raiders logo/who’s loco.” Very nice. The last verse, from Encore, is the best yet, and I realize that he sounds like what I wish Rasco sounded like.

So, at this point, I am actually feeling the album, and I try going back to the beginning. “For You” turns out to be an absolute gem, as Core spits some lines about all the people he appreciates in the world. The beat actually begins to grow on me, and I find myself humming the piano line, which sneaks in later in the track, the rest of the day.

Granted, “Self-Preservation” still has its faults. The beats aren’t all on point, especially “It’s Going Down,” produced by Joey Chavez. Architect goes wrong on “The Bio” (the introduction–I *still* can’t even listen to that) and sometimes his beats are some simple and airy that too much relies on the vocals to keep it interesting. And Encore does not always keep it interesting. Also, Exec Lounge seems to overlap into Heiroglyphics, and one would think that this is a good thing, but Pep Love’s guest spot on “The Situation” is really wack as all hell. I haven’t heard his new single yet–I hope he redeems himself.

But this is a solid debut, reminding us of the strength of the west these days. If nothing else, pick up the “Love and Hate” 12″, just for the instrumental.

Encore :: Self-Preservation
7Overall Score