In 2001 the New York underground record label Def(initive) Jux gained popularity through a strange, but artistically profound disc “The Cold Vein,” by the group Cannibal Ox. The album was proof that there were still undiscovered sounds and expectations of the hip-hop genre could be eclipsed. The raw sounds provided by producer El-P were heavy with synth strings like that of an orchestra and outer-space sounds. The subsequent production heavy releases seemed to relish in Def Jux’s identity as a label created for the crate digging rap fan. Jux continued to promote their mainstay of artists and their own unique sound as a few more years passed; however, come 2003 it seemed like the brains behind the scene decided that it was a good time to reach out to some emcees from the Rotten Apple that could help avoid being typecast. First up was S.A. Smash’s debut “Smashy Trashy”, a merely adequate disc. But, the success of this step outside of the comfort zone was not realized until battle-emcee C-Rayz Walz dropped a gem of an album in “Ravipops (The Substance).”

C-Rayz Walz may not be as surface-level as some of his lyrics may suggest as discovered by the title of his Def Jux debut. The title represents his own status as a father, or “pops”, to a new born Ravi, which is a Hindu solar deity. With such theological inspirations, those Def Jux addicts were expecting something out of this Earth.

The album starts off with a track entitled “Floe,” which immediately breaks the Def Jux blueprint with an enthralling horn loop. This beat fits Rayz’ punch-line battle style and it becomes clear that were dealing with a seriously talented cat with slick lines like, “I’m an animal–in a cannibal sector, with chicks who give you brains like Hannibal Lector” to the incoherent but intriguing, “Murder shows, practiced and unrehearsed, dead on point, like a convertible cactus hearse.” The featured artists’ stop and go flow gives the illusion that he is conjuring all of these stellar lines off the top of his head. Though these are no freestyles, the way he delivers them is incredibly on-point.

“Battle Me” covers a similar range of hot shot lyrical dexterity. The bouncy beat here is another that perfectly gives the Bronx MC an opportunity to show off as substantiated with purely entertaining quips, “I hope you catch Bucks, like Milwaukee, what?” and “My shadow’s chasing me, basically, I’m ahead of my time.” He certainly is. The track is only strengthened by a solid female chorus that challenges anyone to battle C-Rayz. But is that all he can do? It may seem when microscopically looking at the two particular joints discussed and the similar “Yeah” , yet, the reason he succeeds so greatly is because he covers subject matters beyond the shallow pool of battle rapping, basically making the transition that rappers like Supernatural and Juice have found quite difficult.

C-Rayz is comfortable covering the violent subject matter found in typical rap music. “Guns and Butter” is a riveting track that offers more candid lines like “I get your smoke for free, like promotional blunts,” but still does not offer a glimpse of humanity that makes him a special artist in the way that “Protect My Family” manages. This mid-tempo banger is driven by a snappy drum and a chorus that shows a personable vulnerability, even if it is not directly stated:

“I’ma protect my family, that’s my word
Livin’ on the corner left that life on the curb
I’ma protect my family, that’s my word
(No need to get around, I got that good stuff at home)”

Due to such lyrics, C-Rayz Walz is an agreeable personality in a genre that lacks many. His presence as a good man is further expounded on in this portion of the last verse:

“I’ma protect my fam, is what this jam be about
My sons, my daughter, and definitely my spouse
Cause when the goin’ gets tough, she got rough, no doubt
All you chickenheads cluckin’, break out 
Since July 4th 1993 there’s been a change in me
My baby boy Khalil, made a man of me
Made daddy think, to stop hustlin’ in the streets
Make daddy think, would I live to see my son reach three?
Even though, daddy didn’t have a daddy there
Daddy’s gonna make sure, you never have a care in this world
Now I got a baby girl
Born a day after my birthday, Lena changed my world
And put my life into a proper perspective
And now respectin women is my only objective
See, I used to treat women real bad
And now I feel bad because my baby girl could get had”

C-Rayz attempts to dispel potential violence on this track in a very clear and distinct way, whereas, on “The Lineup” he drops a posse cut with the likes of Punchline, MF Doom and many others. “The Lineup” is a conceptual track, where each emcee is a usual suspect and they all bring criminally good cameos.

“Camouflage” is an ill addition to the LP. This joint has a killer chipmunk-style vocal sample, provided relative unknown producer Black Panther, which pushes the track into an elite class. He raps with emotion about the difficulties of dealing with the ghetto lifestyle and the loads of baggage that comes with it.

The album loses a little bit of steam over the last 4 or 5 cuts, aside from the aforementioned “Camoflage.” The consistency of beats waivers slightly as we dig deeper into the CD. For instance, “Seal Killa” and the harsh rock-sample on “3 Card Molly” are misses. Still, these distractions are easily overshadowed by the numerous bangers that set the mood earlier.

C-Rayz Walz was at the apex of his game with “Ravipops” in 2003. Prior to this opus, he was a relative unknown that had made his presence known on the freestyle circuits and with the very small debut entitled “The Prelude.” He released a few more albums on the highly regarded Def Jux label between “We Live: The Black Samurai” and “Year of the Beast,” which were good, but lacked consistency. Since his departure he has continued to release a steady stream of material to add to his catalogue on various labels. Perhaps most notable has been “Monster Maker” in 2007 on Babygrande Records that featured the production work of British producer Sharkey and drew many critical comparisons to Gnarls Barkley. In a time when a powerful underground mainstay like Definitive Jux felt the need to recruit help to alter the image of their label, they enlisted the help of one great emcee from the Bronx. C-Rayz Walz was one artist that had the charisma, wit and pure skill to release a more straightforward album without causing the Def Jux faithful to shout in protest. If you have never taken a listen to this fantastic release, it is adamantly suggested you go give it a try.

C-Rayz Walz :: Ravipops (The Substance)
9Overall Score