If I’d get the chance to, I wouldn’t think twice about going to see Sunru play live. There’s a really tight band at work here. At least that was my first impression until a closer inspection of the album’s credits revealed that the majority of the instruments is played by just one man: Jamin Uhuru, who additionally shares mic duties with his partner in rhyme Seph Uhuru. Still, Sunru is made up of various members, a saxophonist, a DJ, two singers, with the occasional drummer, guitarist or keyboarder lending a helping hand. Together they provide something not often experienced in hip-hop: that ‘live music’ feeling.
Residing in San Diego, Sunru bring a distinct West Coast flavor to their music and a political activist attitude to their lyrics. “It’s On (Eclipse Pt. 1)” is what it would sound like if Oakland’s The Coup ever used a live band. Combining straightforward as well as ornamental elements, “It’s On” seems like the ultimate mix of funk and hip-hop if they’d meet up on stage. Lyrically, it’s mostly simple self-assuring slogans (“we’re rippin’ up your speakers / some thought we wasn’t shit, now we’re the number one feature”) but Jamin and Seph know how to serve food for thought as well:
“I’m doin’ this for the thugs, I’m doin’ this out of love
I mean-mug cause I’m chokin’ on my own blood
I hear some cats spit fake raps for money
to put Cris’ in the system but no food in the tummy
I advertise what I think is wise
in the end, time to size who will compromise
and besides, everything that’s been said been said before
so only actions determine whether you’re at war
you don’t need a bullet when you got the ballot”
Sunru take it considerably easier after this blazing opener. Not all grooves are as tight as the second half of “1 Time”, a 10 minute long diatribe against police. “Sunru” for instance is dragged down by some overly spontaneous singing, and tracks like “I’ll B Around” or “I Know” suffer from interchangeable instrumentation. Other tracks make up for it, especially “I Wanna Smoke a Blunt” and “Blunt (Live Remix)”, but also the reflective “Rollin”, “Somethin'” and “Strange Place”. Keep in mind that this is not the common keyboard/drum machine set-up you hear on so many of today’s rap records, we’re dealing with old school musicianship here. “Eclipse” is not full of catchy grooves, but if you give the tracks some time, they are likely to draw the listener in.
The album’s most obvious shortcomings lie in the vocals. While Jamin and Seph manage to come up with noteworthy lines like “we train metaphors to communicate in times of war / what’s a good livin’ if we ain’t got shit to die for,” a lot of people will find simplistic similes like “hip-hoppin’ like a kangaroo” and “addictive like a cigarette” irritating. Thankfully they’re mixed into a more complex rhyme structure. The lyrics may not always be discernible, the voices not always be steady, the flows not always be on point, but things like that are part of any live experience, and while “Eclipse” is not a live recording, its spontaneity reveals that it is one in spirit.