Last year I took a look at Shabaam Sahdeeq’s “Keepers of the Lost Art” in a featured review. It was overdue given he had dropped a handful of solo albums since the late 1990’s we never got around to covering for whatever reason, which I believe can be attributed to three factors – they came out on really small imprints, they never got distribution beyond his Brooklyn turf, and/or he didn’t have a good publicist repping his material. In the last couple of years he’s made up for all three of those in spades, becoming the factor on the hip-hop scene that many of us thought he would be back in the Rawkus Records heydey.
There’s an unfortunate and unavoidable moment of sadness on the “Modern Artillery” album on the final track “Men of Respect.” It’s an underground posse-all-in collabo joint featuring 8thW1, Torae and the late Pumpkinhead. It’s only made more bitter by the fact his bars basically body the entire track, leaving Shabaam and his other friends to pick up the scraps he didn’t already eat. It’s one more reminder of just how much Robert Diaz will be missed.
“I shine, I smell good and feel brand new
I say hi to 33, bye to 32
I’m enjoying the breeze, rolling up trees
Don’t wear skinny jeans cause my balls gotta breathe
The hungriest in the game, yeah I gotta eat
The illest spitter since Jigga from these Brooklyn streets
I’m a beast all over these beats
That’s ice you wearing? S–t, you look more like sleet”
It does make you wonder when the song was recorded though since Diaz was 39 at the time of his passing, but I’ll not waste your time as a reader pondering that dilemma any further. “Gladiator School” winds up being one of my favorites on this short album for two reasons – the cameo verse from the underrated Ruste Juxx and the scratched in hook using samples of Kool Keith’s verse on “Poppa Large.” It also reflects an interesting change in dynamics for Shabaam Sahdeeq, who used to be that rapper that you called on when you needed a hot 16 for your remix, the guy who made his name off burning up tracks that weren’t his own. Now the roles have reversed and it’s rappers like Reef the Lost Cauze who are stealing the shine on songs like “Chance.”
It’s only on the songs where Sahdeeq goes completely solo like “Get It” and “All Over the World” that we really get the sense of where he’s at as an emcee in 2015. He’s got a good team of European hip-hop heads working with him on this release – Big Ape on the beats and DJ Devastate on the cuts – but it all comes down to whether or not Sahdeeq can draw you into his world with the flow. As I indicated on my last review though, this is a newer and calmer Shabaam Sahdeeq than when I was first introduced to his fiery flow. Does the mellower rap style suit him? I think so.
“From the coast of Venezuela to Trinidad I’m sure
That I’ma make my mark and score
And I’m in it to win the game, plus take the championship
Fools steady running they mouth and ain’t sayin s–t
I spit gasoline and lighter fluid, that’s how I do it
Pick a track, throw some Henny back, and run right through it
The night time is beautiful, that’s my time
It’s either I’m on out the grind or I’m out on the grime
Prime time when the stars twinkle, I’m into things
Got a relationship with hip-hop not a one night fling”
For better or worse though I think the target audience is dwindling for this kind of rugged underground hip-hop. I freely admit that like Shabaam Sahdeeq I’m an aging veteran of this s–t, and that we both come from an era where beats and bars mattered most, but the current generation of hip-hop is a little less Sahdeeq and a little more Fetty Wap. That’s just something we’re all going to have to live with. There’s nothing bad about “Modern Artillery” other than the fact Sahdeeq gives up a little too much of the spotlight to his guests, and that I can’t picture a single song on it blowing up commercially, but like the man said himself his relationship with hip-hop is not a one night fling so hot singles (or 16’s) are not the focus. He’s trying to build something that will still last and be enjoyable years from now and in that respect I feel he succeeded.