“Legendary Gatherings” is a pretty bold title, especially when it refers to an album by a crew of Canadian underground emcees. Maybe they’re banking on the future success of the artists, but as of right now, the featured names don’t exactly take my breath away. If the music is good, though, the title of the record is of absolutely no importance to me. Island City Monsters is the name of the label, and a series of recording sessions between a variety of rappers and producers resulted in this thirteen-track album.

And yes, “Legendary Gatherings” is pretty good. I wouldn’t attach a word like “legendary” to this project, but that doesn’t matter. “Humble Beginnings” opens things up with a soft-edged beat from Prodject Grimy, and Memo highlights the importance of living a humble life. After the following “Move Up,” the music’s simplicity is noticeable, but so is its quality. A few concept songs keep things going. “The Bench” mimics a cipher in the park, complete with production founded in a beatbox from Butterbeats. There are no true quotables, but each emcee delivers a pure verse that fits the concept perfectly.

“Bark,” by Second Thought and Memo, is less pleasant, fueled by heartless and uninteresting shock rhymes and a generic beat from Engineer. “Make You Famous” missteps as well, with an irritating sped-up vocal sample ruining an otherwise sufficient beat. A great hook is wasted, as well as three riveting verses from Meta4ce, Velvet Trench Vibes, and David Hodges. Too bad, because the omission of one little loop would have made for a great song. “One” is an uncomfortable inclusion, aimed squarely at radio play with a slicker sound, but Twitch’s beat has a subtle hint of Timbaland in its futuristic funk. June Sixth, getting the benefit of a rare solo song, makes the most of it with accessible but quality rhymes over the quiet but tempestuous production.

A four-rapper, four-story song called “Fate” is the centerpiece of the record. The production is simple but interesting enough to contain depth, and each story revolves around the hook, which states “fate is a strange thing, put yourself in the way of the world.” The piano loop is low enough to haunt my ears just a bit, and the theme provides more significance than your average storytelling rap. All four rappers, Memo, Second Thought, Cale Sampson, and NFact, are excellent narrators, so there are no weak links. The succeeding “Stand Up” is another bit of brilliance, with a slow, drum-heavy beat and a passionate chorus. Second Thought, the alpha male of the group, is joined by Malicious, and they play the typical hungry emcee card perfectly. For the same reason that battle-rapping has become obsolete, odes to the “hunger” of being an artist now carry very little intrigue. Second Thought and Malicious, however, are a reminder of why a heartfelt mission statement can be so compelling. They display utter conviction with each line, making a believer out of me.

Later in the disc, a few songs struggle to generate interest. “What Happened” and “Breeding Ground,” especially, have good beats and solid rhymes, but nothing spectacular to elevate them from ordinary. Battling is not these rappers’ forte. “What Happened” asks rhetorically “what happened to this rap shit, used to be some passion,” but they fail to answer that question, attacking their competition instead of being true emcees. With such a strong showing on their concept songs, these statements seem empty in comparison.

An excellent bonus track is included, but this is frustrating because of the architect’s choice to tack it on the end of the last track. This is one of my serious pet peeves, and it truly feels like a potentially great cut is wasted. Despite this, and the slight deficiencies in a few songs, “Legendary Gatherings” is very accessible and it also will reward repeat listens. Though no individual stands out, each artist belongs on wax, and both the personnel and tracklisting avoid overkill. If your favorite artists are trying your patience, or you have a little extra time to spare, check “Legendary Gatherings” out. It won’t disappoint.

Various Artists :: ICM Records presents Legendary Gatherings
7.5Overall Score