RapReviews readers were first introduced to ScholarMan over a year ago on the album “Soul Purpose.” Having landed the assignment of covering his album myself I was fairly critical of the overall product, feeling the accompanying press release made promises a brand new rapper simply couldn’t deliver on. “Soul Purpose” didn’t live up to even my own modest expectations, proving what I thought after reading an overblown one sheet was right all along. That’s not entirely fair to ScholarMan, a rapper who may be just as hard working and eager to succeed as Gift of Gab or Nas even if he posesses only a modicum of their lyrical talent. At least in terms of his production skills ScholarMan has shown promise on his CD and a few others (most notably “Mission IsPossible” by TrueBless). That leads me to believe ScholarMan could produce a better album than his initial offering. Since Soganic Musicdecided to take a chance and send us another ScholarMan CD, we should give ScholarMan another chance and see if he can live up to a moniker which implies a more intelligent rap style than we’ve heard thus far.

“Gameshift: The Movement” opens with the short “Make Your Mind Up,” blending together a softly tapped drumline with pianos and a plucky guitar melody.

“They say I talk about real hip-hop, way too much
I say we don’t talk about it enough
Let me hear you say praise to those MC’s that’s keepin the game balanced
Those that share they views are now walkin around silent
Leaders in they own right, see we the guiding light
I’m tryin to go down in history for the rhymes that I write”

It’s too early for ScholarMan to go down in history, but he definitely seems to have stepped his game up a little (no pun intended). The production on “The Movement” is even better, a jazzy organic type style that could be favorably compared to the late J Dilla. If anything I wish SM had mixed his vocals DOWN a little bit so I could hear the beat more clearly.

“Yeah, yo, skills I have lots keep my ear to the block
The game got faith in me like the people got in Barack
I, demand my shot like LeBron in the hole
I processed that Bush he made the economy fold
We were, bought and sold now we sell ourselves out
for a little bit of cash, oh here comes the bailout
No quittin – consistantly spittin
Even when times rough, not givin up, seek wisdom”

Congratulations SM. If this were a “Game” you’d have moved up two levels in rank and would now be fighting tougher opponents. I like the mix of political views, pop culture and hip-hop spirituality that SM weaves together on this track. SM largely sticks to fighting the powers that be, as evidenced by tracks like “Our All” that punch you in the head with a Malcolm X sample right at the start. ScholarMan’s biggest scholarly area of concern seems to be that electing Obama to office didn’t automatically help the downtrodden and discriminated of America, so he’s constantly looking for a way to “Work it Out” with a movement of empowerment and self-awareness.

Duets are few and far beteen on “Gameshift: The Movement” but when they do occur they work. K-Mynez shows himself to be morally outraged at the repulsiveness of songs like “Laffy Taffy” while sharing the mic with SM on “What You Puttin’ Back.” The chorus says it all for both men: “We represent real hip-hop, we never flip-flop/Could care less about the things that your clique got/It’s more what you puttin back, future what we lookin at/Hot beats and rhymes, yeah we cookin that.” TrueBless shines when he cameos on “Still” too, a song with a high-pitched and seemingly sped up looped melody that works perfectly. “Still see the fields, still see the plains/Still bein killed, still feel the pain/still packin steel, cotton brand names/Has it really changed from the whips and the chains?” A provocative question to be sure, but the song does not offer the listener easy answers – just a head-nodding beat and fresh rhymes.

While it’s true that I never underestimated SM’s potential as a producer, I’m happy to report that his lyrical ability has now EXCEEDED my expectations on “Gameshift: The Movement.” Vocally he reminds me of what Diamond D would be if he hadn’t gotten lazy lyrically and given up on trying to have nice rhymes to go with his beats. While SM’s beats are not on a Diamond D level yet, the fact that he’s a good producer and better rapper makes for a product that compares favorably to “The Huge Hefner Chronicles,” which means this is an album I can cautiouslyrecommend. SM’s flow is still a little too monotone, his production style is occasionally repetitive, and just because the rhymes have improved since his last album doesn’t mean he can’t continue to build. If this really is a “Movement” then ScholarMan needs not stop here – he can keep getting better and so can the rest of hip-hop; well except for those “Laffy Taffy” cats.