Detroit duo the Regiment has steadily been building their brand since debuting back in 2007 with “The Come Up,” and their third album, 2011’s “The Panic Button,” arrives on Kevin Nottingham’s HiPNOTT Records. On the heels of 2009’s “A New Beginning,” which drew attention largely due to the single “Old School Vibe,” a monster of a track produced by fellow Motown native Apollo Brown, they’ve returned with a seventeen track LP featuring production from Apollo Brown and Kev Brown as well as Soulution, Newstalgia, Beat Butcha, Beatnick Dee, and Soulgate with guests from Boog Brown, Substantial, and Finale. Going from relative unknowns to collaborating with some of the Midwest’s leading figures is no small feat, and “The Panic Button” looks to further the rise of IseQold and O.S.I.
Unfortunately, “The Panic Button” will probably be remembered as a step backward for the duo. Don’t get me wrong – this is a great sounding album. The producers assembled provide the MCs with over an hour’s worth of music that alone should place the Regiment among Detroit’s forerunners. Like the Left’s “Gas Mask” and Daily Bread’s self-titled LP, both Apollo Brown-produced projects from last year, “The Panic Button” features a smart balance of sweet, soulfully nostalgic numbers and thundering street anthems. The slower tracks feature brilliantly sentimental instrumentals lending nods to Detroit’s classic soul roots, while the upbeat songs are loaded with lively basslines and sub-pounding percussion. In the hands of a Finale or Journalist 103 we might easily have a gem on our hands, but IseQold and O.S.I. hardly do their shining producers justice here.
It’s not that IseQold and O.S.I. can’t rap – they both sport energetic, on-point flows – but their content is underwhelming throughout. It hurts to hear rappers so utterly convinced that their words are worthwhile when in fact they ring so hollow. The Regiment sounds so sure of their music’s value and singularity that they treat it like revelation – a gift the listener should be thankful for. Yet their sentiments are far from unique among their peers, and in reality their pleas for a return to golden age humility will be quite familiar to their target audience. They’re an extremely sentimental pair, yet their dramatic accounts are in fact strikingly impersonal, which plagues most of the slower, somber songs, not to mention some simply horrendous hooks. It’s admirable that the Regiment strives to make clean music as an alternative to the violence and negativity characteristic of gangsta rap, but there’s a fine line between “positive” and “corny” that they toe a little too closely:
“They say beauty’s in the eye of the beholder
You gotta look past stretch marks and high rollers
Like them baby mommas pushin’ strollers
On the prowl, still tryin’ to figure out schemes
To escort their child, only had ’em just to lock their daddy down
On some foul, I got ’em now, child support
Your baby got some new J’s but can’t walk on the court
You’re too early for the pass
I’m just trying to make some points before your God blocks that path
To that stairway to heaven and crash
It’s lookin’ dimmer
And to my love, when I catch you lookin’ in the mirror
Insecure about your figure
Don’t worry ’bout that, it’s just a little baby fat
You jealous of them girls in the magazines, I been there, done that
It’s all about where your mind’s at
Your outer appearance is way beyond that
A foundation I invest, so please not stress or second-guess
If I’m tellin’ the truth, I’m here for you
So if we gonna make it, it’s up to you”
“Guns and Butter” and “Beauty of a Day” are so self-righteous it’s irritating, with ambiguous and meandering verses that stray beyond any linear thought pattern, rife with virtuous clichÃ©s. The faux-inspirational rhymes of “Just Shine” and “Believe” are plagued by hopelessly generic language, and despite excellent production from Apollo Brown “The Reason” displays their unfortunate tendency to take themselves way too seriously. “Let Her Go” and “Everything” prove forgettable and interchangeable love songs.
The album’s second half proves much stronger than the first, thriving on the strength of a procession of solid collaborations. Newstalgia’s impressive production on “Make Do” makes their run-of-the-mill rhymes palatable, and Substantial carries Soulution’s heartfelt production “That’s Why.” Soulgate laces “Get Away” with a gorgeous horn and string arrangement reminiscent of a classic ’70s soul track, and “100” might be the best of all, a hard-as-nails posse cut with Kev Brown and Finale. Soulution also shines on the late-album downtempo number “Clarity,” and the album smartly closes with an “Old School Vibe” remix, reimaging the original with a new Apollo Brown beat and a more sentimental take on the commentary.
“The Panic Button” is kind of like a fast food burger – it sounds wonderful, but upon deeper analysis, the meat is devoid of real substance. Corny, transposable rhymes and hopelessly bad hooks keep the Regiment from entering the plateau of their celebrated Motown peers despite some of the best production their city has to offer. IseQold and O.S.I. desperately lack the honest grit and contemplative introspection of their more acclaimed neighbors, and “The Panic Button” fails to fulfill its sizable potential.