On the classic Black Star song “Definition” Mos Def opens the track up by uttering the phrase “Reporting live from somewhere.” The somewhere did not matter, it was all about the message. Similarly, reason newscasters use those famous words is because the undercurrent of the line indicates that what is being reported is urgent, important, the here and the now. Artists Solo and Sneed, who make up The Braves, realized the deep relevance to the title of their new album, “Reporting Live”, but do they live up to the meaning of it? Are they next on rap’s perpetually swinging pendulum of popularity?
There is certainly enough to get excited about upon looking at “Reporting Live” on the surface level. A Canibus cameo on the title track may not draw the masses like it once did, but anyone that has kept a close eye on the gravel-voiced emcee knows that he can still be a force to be reckoned with. Furthermore, producer Domingo churns out some production credits, though The Braves member Sneed covers a majority of the liner notes in this respect. But, ultimately, Solo and Sneed need to overcome the obstacle of two white dudes from Brooklyn that are trying to wax poetic.
The tone for “Reporting Live” is set with the very opening lines of the album when the following politically charged sentiment is dropped, “Walking the trail of tears under American blood red skies/Under threats of apocalypse and burnt freedom fries.” The song thrives on an emotive beat coupled with a nagging sample. The Canibus verse is certainly poignant, but at times it seems that it derives from purpose of the song when he zones out and kicks his upper-level vocabulary.
When you couple the introductory track with others like “War Paint”, “With God On Our Side” and “History”, the listener is directed towards deep themes of social and political significance. Many may not agree with anarchical sentiment (think indie rap versions of Zach De La Rocha) suggested by many of the songs and the aggressive nature by which Solo and Sneed recommend facing this country’s woes, but at least they are offering a strong position on difficult subjects, which is more than can be said about anyone in Washington. On “History” Sneed briefly shows his admiration to American soldiers when he says, “Check your history books, because you just might miss/The fact that people died so we could live like this.” But most of the track draws attention to the idea that we are controlled by those elected. The whimsically funky trumpet that bridges into the chorus is extremely cool.
Meanwhile The Braves do not let this undercurrent of anti-establishment muddle their album too much. They vary up the subject matter with “16”, a track about men that not-knowingly get caught up in a sexual relationship with an underage Lolita. And the amped up, rock-infused, cut “Boosting for Dummies” plays out as more of a grocery list of the merchandise they steal (okay, so it’s still anti-establishment). The electric guitar that pumps through the speaker will remind most listeners of Rick Rubin’s “99 Problems” sound.
The very best track is also probably the most overused concept. It is the seemingly mandatory song from the indie rap group talking about how they are real, whereas the bulk of popular rap acts are fronting. “Flashbacks” is a slick Domingo beat that really stands out, thanks to a couple of crate digging vocal samples from the like of legends Rakim and Big L, respectively. It is one of the only bangers that actually uses cuts and scratches, an ingredient that almost always is warmly accepted. Again, the concept has been done way too much, but they pull it off with the best combination of lyrics and production on the entire disc.
The warrior-named group is mostly hindered by their own frenetic nature. On “War Paint” and “Break While You Can” the duo can almost be faulted for rapping with such aggression, because it does not work as well as when they are poised. A few of the other joints are marred by less stellar beats.
The Braves are ultimately successful with their album “Reporting Live” in creating an entertaining listen. It is a good jump off for Solo and Sneed, who apparently already working on a follow-up, because much of this album was in the works for a long period of time. â€œReporting Liveâ€ might seem to urgent for The Braves, as for now it seems like a memo about these guys would suffice, though they have enough potential to get people to pay attention.