“My style is abstract poetry on top of electronic grooves dipped deeply in California sunshine.”

If this isn’t the corniest thing to have ever graced an album cover, opposition fails to come to mind. It sounds awkward, and I doubt it generates many sales, but writing it off as I did would be purely ignorant; Bay Area rapper Raja at least accurately sums his steez. A bold statement? Sure it is, but “Come Along With Me” is an even bolder venture into a strange realm.

Raja’s style lacks a good definition, hence the long-winded intro. Is it “abstract?” Yep. “On top of electronic grooves?” Yeah, you could certainly say that. Abstract can be great fun; some of the best hip-hop has come from the bloody operating rooms of Dr. Octagon and bizarre mind state of Busdriver, but in those cases the “abstract” always applies to a greater concept. Raja’s “abstract” is just abstract enough as to completely lack coherence. If you, too, struggle in finding a deeper meaning in “candy-painted, tainted luv, gloves made of black silky material are equivalent to my hands on approach, I grip the mic like Naseem Hamed,” promptly admit defeat. Either that, or recognize that Raja is either decades ahead of our time or pulling an album-long fast-one on us.

Raja is not a hopeless slam poet wannabe, nor an unworkable rapper. He does lack a sense of direction, bouncing repulsively from subcultures he seems torn between, doing justice to neither. His voice is quite pleasant (not a far cry from Aceyalone), and some of his poetry shows great potential, but he struggles with his breath control and has no mastery with his tone of voice. When he’s in poetry mode, he often comes off trying to sound too cool, to the point of losing personality. When he’s rapping, he subconsciously holds hands with his Mr. Hyde beat poet persona, sloppily spitting over the tracks unrhythmically and with little character.

The only hype track on the album, “Without Luv” sees Raja 1.) finally rapping with a little fervor and 2.) finally bringing some semblance of story: “I just wanted to get my high school diploma… smell the aroma of a degree… but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” True, when Raja’s at his best, he’s decidedly at his most emo, but it works for him, and he doesn’t tap this source often enough.

Minor blips continue to strip “Come Along With Me” of its credibility, whether it be the only two love songs literally focusing on sugar and honey, or the inclusion of three “skits” that feature nothing more than totally random noise. Alas, 0:29 of ambient rainforest sounds made for one of the album’s better moments. Furthermore, the track listing isn’t numbered, isn’t in order, and doesn’t even include every song.

The production, uncredited, certainly isn’t bad. Most of the time it adheres to the un-sampled, synthesized R&B groove of “Cosmetixx” or slow ’90’s pump of “Precious Moments.” As instrumentals (or with Genuwine), they’d work fine, but with Raja’s half-rapped, half-spoken poetry they hardly cooperate with each other. He rarely sounds comfortable over them, but when he does, it’s either when he’s RAPPIN’ rappin,’ or over better beats (“Midnite Cowboy”). For Raja’s sake, I’ll pretend like none of the choruses ever happened.

You could blame Raja for choosing too difficult an approach to ever succeed with “Come Along With Me,” but it’s really an adequate excuse. In a lot of ways, poetry and rap are one in the same, a sentiment backed by the likes of Saul Williams and Sage Francis. Somewhere in between these two elements, both have found a harmony that works to make their music as good as it is. Raja, in trying to please either side, can’t help but watch his music become a redundant affair; mediocre poetry to inappropriate breakbeats that never compliment each other. Raps and poems are part of the same family, giving to each other as much as they take. Sometimes you need to talk with them one at a time to appreciate what they have to offer.

Raja :: Come Along With Me