RapReviews is officially scheduled to have another “UK Month” in October, but owing to the insistence of a persistent publicist, Phoenix Da Icefire just can’t wait that long. His bio is the hard knock life story any rapper from a ward of New Orleans or a project of New York City could relate to, with the only difference being that story gets transplanted to a poor neighbourhood of East London. His father died in 2002 and he witnessed the death of a close friend when he was only 12, and these experiences both forced him into adulthood young and simultaneously fueled his ice hot rage to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of poverty to the heights of success.
Now that we’ve got the roots out of the way, let’s get to the rhythm and the reggae. Like so many of his brethern from the UK hip-hop scene, Phoenix has a pattern of speech and vocal inflection that mixes British and the West Indies. To the uninitiated, he’s going to be a little hard to follow lyrically; even to the initiated it is at times a challenge. What works on his favor on “The Quantum Leap” though is that he’s a storyteller, so if you follow the thread of the story to its conclusion on songs like “Tales of the Cobblestones” the words will make more sense in context:
“My mother Earth has seen her sons
LAID DOWN on the coldest pavements
Intuition kept me out of danger
Feelin like Jesus in the devil’s manger
Lettin me rot slowly
I raise my sword but the serpent holds me
Declared war cause the elders showed me
My people slaughtered; now I’m feelin lonely”
The highest compliment I can offer Phoenix on songs like these is that he sounds like the British version of Killah Priest – mixing hip-hop with prophetic visions and Christian imagery in a compelling blur. Even the flow and his occasional tendency to ignore the beat for the sake of making a point echoes Priest. His bio lists Nas and Canibus as influences, but clearly they’re not the only ones.
While one can’t definitively argue that “The Quantum Leap” is trying to crossover to Yankee ears, it probably doesn’t hurt to have Ruste Juxx cameo on the banging “Aim For the Soul” or Keith Murray to join Phoenix and Brit rap legend Klashnekoff on “The Point of No Return.” Lacking production notes on this promo copy I can’t give you definitive tips on who did what, but someone hand an award to the producer of “Through the Eyes of Gaia” for me – best use of a harp in hip-hop since Pacewon’s “Locked.” I’m also feeling the spooky Gravedigga-esque vibe of “Lunar Perigee” musically and lyrically (another clear influence), the slinky funk of “Lumberjack Stacks” and you’d swear “Back to the Future” was a Cormega track. For an artist I wasn’t familiar with five minutes before I opened his zip file, I’m happy to report I’ll be checking for Phoenix Da Icefire in the future.