The Chicago rap collective Jyroscope consists of rapper Collasoul, producer I.B. Fokuz and DJ Seanile. It was the emcee of the trio who forwarded “MUTE” to us for review. I poked around online first to get more information about the crew and noticed they were described as progressive hip-hop. “Progressive” can at times be a loaded word. Generally it can be attached to rap artists and groups who put an emphasis on innovative musical styles and advanced lyrical techniques. Occasionally it also refers to rap music that is art for art’s sake that exists in a vacuum inaccessible to the public. If you’re too “progressive” you can lose touch with what hip-hop is and where it came from and make something unrecognizable as one of the arts. The last few minutes of the self-titled opening track is self-aware enough to address this issue head on.

This put me into a good frame of mind going forward into the rest of Jyroscope’s release. Far too many artists make the mistake of not considering either the audience for their work or the intent OF their work, but Jyroscope is clearly thinking about both. It can be argued this is entirely self-serving given how hard it is to stand out in today’s marketplace, but if that’s what it takes to get noticed out of the masses then I’m all for a little more critical thinking. Collasoul clearly feels the same way when you listen to him rap on tracks like “Relationship Goals.” It’s jarring at first given the track opens with samples of a speech by (ugh) POTUS 45, but his words ease your soul when the song begins in earnest. The intro/hook is a clap back at Trumpian hate.

“It’s looking like the old days
You’re looking like the old way, looking like you feel so much hate
Looking like you don’t want me to live
You don’t want me to live, but yet want me to give you what you need
Uh – and you step while we bleed, and feed
on us cause you know you need all us
What do we call us? What do you call us?
Bet you made it all up…”

Intros and outros are a significant part of Jyroscope’s presentation. “Can’t be a +Macho Savage+ beast like +Randy+ any more” quips the opening of “To Man Is to Atlas.” This is where the album veers close to being on the “preachy” end of the “progressive” spectrum, but it’s coming from a good place and it’s hard not to forgive their sincerity. What’s less forgivable is that for a group none of us knew before this review, so much of “MUTE” is given over to guest stars like Jason Gatz, Wizard Jenkins and Malakh El. None of their appearances drag down the album, but it would be nice to get to know Collasoul and crew on their own BEFORE introducing all of their friends and associates, especially on an album that’s only a half hour long.

“MUTE” walks the fine line between being thoughtful and being a “try hard” and largely succeeds in knowing the difference. What holds Jyroscope back more than anything is that the production is serviceable as opposed to stellar. It’s good to play an album and not hate anything, but it’s not good to play an album and not really LOVE anything either. Nothing had that mesmerizing musical feel, strong percussion or fat bumping bass that made me say “I’ve got to listen to that song again.” It may sound disrespectful to say that Jyroscope sounds like the local act that opens for a Strange Music tour when they come to the Chicago area, but on the other hand they’re at least good enough to BE the opening act. There’s reason to be hopeful about their future.