Drop the press kits. Forget about that other wack shit I got in the mail. I’ll be right back, I’ma just grab me something to drink – hold up – this is a “Back to the Lab” review?” Nah… Of all the records to sleep on, this couldn’t possibly be one. I mean, could it? Ears have opinions, too, and Lefty’s telling me to track down Steve ‘Flash’ Juon for answers. Righty’s telling me it’s okay; that “Human Language” is an album beyond reviewing; that no one even bothered to save themselves from the hassle. Shut up guys This is bullshit. There’s just no way this hasn’t been covered yet.
Sure there is. As lauded as Aceyalone certainly is in the RapReviews archives, it’s but another testament to his sophomoric masterpiece’s criminal overlooking that it’s taken eight good years for its inclusion. If there were ever such a bitter contradiction: that which I’ve always considered hip-hop’s crowning achievement hardly blips on the radars of even established heads. And Ace-One knows a thing or two about establishment. I won’t go in depth, but he’s kind of a big deal; he helped put “smart” left-coast hip-hop on the map, was an integral member of the legendary Freestyle Fellowship, and oh yeah, there’s that handful of classic albums. The first of which, “All Balls Don’t Bounce,” is a landmark hailed by J5 fanboys and rock critics alike, often referred to along with Pharcyde’s early work as the roots of conscious western rap.
Yet, during the prime of his career, when the man could have rapped about cement drying and kept your interest, he was… ignored? Now that makes no sense. But for all these years, none of that mattered to me, and it still doesn’t. Aceyalone’s second LP made me not care. About what? School? Check. Girls? Sure. God’s great interstellar galaxy? All but the headphones – that, too. It’s not like he invents the metaphor, nor do punch lines have you whooping “OHH” 8 Mile-style all alone in your bedroom. He creates an atmosphere it seems nobody else would or could visit even if they wanted to.
The concept is frighteningly brilliant, yet elementary enough to seem childlike. There are, of course, a handful of musicians, outside and in hip-hop, who have also gone with the storybook approach, each track representing a chapter and such trimmings. Only in this case actual “chapters” are never mentioned or even alluded to; by way of each song’s grandiosity, it is assumed. And even within Ace’s tales, he scarcely reflects the famed “story” raps of yore (Big’s “Warning;” Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.”). Each song is a gorgeously abstract take on life, death and their composing elements. “The Balance” dissects the ancient yin-yang theory ever so finely, seeming to create its very own center of energy: “Check your balance beam with a feather and rock, yo whether or not you find the answer it’s really not the plot/see it’s like love and hate – the same emotion, different weight/people love to hate, so I know you know just how this all relate.”
Ace asks you to “consider him part of the dust” in “The Guidelines,” implying that he and all of human life are ultimately insignificant. On “The Grandfather Clock” he cautions just how explosive the element of time is, literally taking a word from it: “I control how long you stay alive – I’mma tap you on your shoulder at 11:55 when the time’s arrived.” “The Walls And Windows” would seem a fantastical journey through the surreal, and it is, but it’s also Ace’s standing on unfavorable judgement and the paranoia surrounding it: “see my windowpane got so much pain the glass is bustin’ out the frame/so let the candle kindle in the window as a symbol/I leave my window open hopin’ I might get a breeze, but when the wind comes in, the eyes come in, and the eyes don’t seem to wanna leave.” He notes the unfair advantage of personal appearance on “The Faces,” and stares his taker in the face on “The Thief In The Night:” “I hear it moves swiftly, underneath the nose/’til one day you come face to face, you gonna cross the line, you’re lost for time.” Ace’s phrasing more closely resembles classic poetry than the rhyming of KRS-One, giving the album the storybook feel for which it’s known.
“A Book of Human Language” would be comparable to Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland even without Ace’s rendition of “The Jabberwocky.” A stirring nonsense poem about a mythical creature, it reads like something he probably could have conjured up himself, and is just ridiculous enough to make for one of the album’s many highlights. At this point the pace is already set; only before, turning back might have been an option.
With “Human Language” cinematic as is, of course producer Mumbles is deserving of much credit. His beats are dark, fitting the mood like a warm mitten; somber 50’s jazz playing as prominent a role as sampled clock ticks and earthy growls. Nearly every sound is bleak and just slightly off kilter, but each beat is melodious and, unlike most avant garde rap, even induces head nodding. Throbbing horns and a thumping break give “The March” a lively pulse, and hectic riding cymbals and upright bass turn the title track into a bustling, bumpy ride. Mumbles’ work on “Human Language” may not be THE best of all time, but never has a beatmaker surrounded his emcee with a more appropriate selection. Furthermore, the emcee and his maestro achieve a level of chemistry unmatched by even the greatest of duos; from Premier and Guru to Madlib and Doom.
In the annals of RapReviews.com, there are but few perfect “10’s,” all of which have been carefully and seldom awarded. It might be because of our rating system that there aren’t even fewer; perhaps on a scale of 0 to 1,000, some of our “10’s” might have been “995’s.” Who knows? I do know there is only one album I deem perfect. Flood my inbox with the hate of a pubescent Anakin Skywalker, but it isn’t “36 Chambers.” It’s not “Ready To Die,” it isn’t even “Illmatic.” It’s the furthest thing from the streets hip-hop could get, yet it’s a flight of stairs from the stoop. It has nothing to do with your life at the same instance it is wholly and most certainly applicable. You may put it in your walkman, but it’s hardly even a CD. It’s “A Book of Human Language.”