Credibility can be a grey area when talking about emcees. There aren’t many artists that can hold their own in a rap battle with Dizaster, tour with Immortal Technique and acquire Killer Mike and Sean Price for guest spots on a solo project. Swave Sevah may not be well known to the uninitiated, indeed many will only know of him from his affiliation with Immortal, but he is well respected for good reason. I actually saw him live with Poison Pen and Immortal Technique in concert and whilst his material lacks the political awareness Tech’s music offers, Swave possesses an authenticity beyond the gun talk. Sometimes an emcee possesses that unique air of respect, and Swave Sevah looks and sounds like he has been through a lot emotionally. “Son of a One Armed Man” is remarkably, Swave Sevah’s debut – named after the fact his father is a master martial artist (possessing three black belts according to one skit).

This album is a strong example of how Swave embraces his roots, with nearly every song, for better AND worse, demonstrating how tough a neighbourhood Harlem is. “4 U Haterz” is a heady mix of broad New York street rap and oddly, thought provoking examples of sociology:

“That’s all I know, understood?
Drugs, money, sex and violence – I’m from the hood
Now I can get my act together and be somethin’
But anything other than this I’d be frontin'”

Despite a decent enough beat, “4 U Haterz” suffers from some superiority-complex rhymes that clearly stem from Swave’s history of battle rhyming. Plenty of put downs and filler bars ensure the track is never anything more than average hardcore hip hop. Unfortunately, much of “Son of a One Armed Man” follows this theme – “Point of View” is gritty but Sevah’s lines come off as discarded battle verses while “Goonery” is a strange combination of slow flows throughout except on the hook, which is packed with rhymes. The endless braggadocio wouldn’t be so monotonous if it was injected with some humour, but the production rarely veers from depressive, doom-filled instrumentals that lend the record an almost dated, early 2000s sound. The worst part of the album is undoubtedly Sean Price’s guest feature; a slurred, lazily written piece of P that proves how far Sean has fallen from his “Monkey Barz” and “Jesus Price Superstar” days. This isn’t the first time he has recycled rhymes or barely pieced together a verse – see El Da Sensei’s “Everyday on the Street”. It’s probably the reason Swave Sevah is so pissed off on tracks like “This Nigga Here”, and it is when Swave is angry he works best. Comparing himself to a dog whose bite is worse than his bark and urging the listener to shoot him adds a bit of stupidity to proceedings that is necessary to keep things interesting. The collaboration with Killer Mike on “Step Aside” is a highlight, not only because Killer’s presence is a welcome break from Swave, but the mean piano-laced production from DJ Static is on some West Coast gangbanging vibe. It stands out for sure.

Considering Swave is proud of his father and the martial arts background he was raised in, there is plenty of gun talk throughout the record. Ironically it reminds me of a Sean Price line: “Niggas can’t fight so they rap about guns”. Of course, Swave Sevah is a respected member of New York hip hop, and I’m not denying guns isn’t par for the course when you’re representing your rough neighbourhood, it’s just I was expecting more from somebody who has the charisma and ability to write some interesting music. And for that, it is another disappointing album from an established battle rapper.

Swave Sevah :: Son of a One Armed Man