An astonishingly poor feature of the otherwise recommendable database Discogs.com is the ‘profile’ information displayed at the top of an artist’s frontpage with their discographies listed below. Many of these profiles are completely blank, others are as good as meaningless, some are flowery press bios from some random point in a career, some are pieced together by the artists themselves. Discogs profiles generally lack. Consider Wordsworth:
Brooklyn-born rapper best known for his work with Punchline under the moniker Punch & Words. Has since pursued a solo career.
Punch & Words, really? A temporary duo who released a couple of songs together in 2000? So they were both Lyricist Lounge alumni, guested on albums by ATCQ, Black Star and Masta Ace and supported some of those on tours. They were both (initially) part of indie fellowship eMC. But Wordsworth has long since put out full-lengths as a soloist, all professionally produced and sold commercially.
Both old acquaintances and those who are new to Words might be surprised how youthful he sounds this far into his career. His vocal tone belies his stage of life. But such a conclusion would only be based on a first impression. Wordsworth would be the first to tell you not to judge a book by its cover. He’s the analytical type, often contemplating several sides of a subject (sometimes with the help of storytelling). His verses often describe processes and try to work out the sense or nonsense in things.
Naturally, life continues to give him a lot to think about. “The Fragility of Life” sees him giving his own interpretation of success (“They Say”) or examining the complexities of diversity (“Skin”). All the while he doesn’t seem to want to complicate things but rather break them down to the listener, that’s why he keeps his songs and messages relatively simple. Might also have to do with him having a Master of Arts degree in Secondary Education. So if Wordsworth comes out with a “Teacher Song”, we can assume he knows what he’s talking about. The message of ‘If I can at least reach one of them’ will be a touch too sentimental for some, but who could fault him for looking for rays of hope amid the cold facts:
“Some are barely writin’, and some are barely readin’
And some are barely speakin’, and some are barely eatin’
They up all night and on their phones, and some are barely sleepin’
And when I’m ’bout to sleep there’s kids who ain’t home yet
Slept on a park bench, some kids that are homeless
Not even thinkin’ ’bout their core subjects and home ec’
Thinkin’ about where they parents will find a home next”
As a lyricist, Wordsworth is able to draw a line from one thought to another. “Watch Over Us” for instance marries stinging observations with a broader concept. Putting politics to poetics is not something you regularly witness even in rap. The second verse of “Watch Over Us” would be a fine example when the tragic events hit the emotional bottom when a victim of gun violence is remembered with the brutal contrast “Krystal cuttin’ the cake by her initials (…) candles on her cake became candles for her ritual”.
“The Fragility of Life” makes for a wholesome listen. “Don’t Be Good, Be Great” has echoes of Martin Luther King’s message. “Because of You” basks in sugary soul and a Taste of Honey interpolation from singer Jacqueline Constance as Words peppers his dedication to a special someone with mature reflections such as “Addressin’ all my flaws / understand that I was wrong addressin’ only yours”.
Wordsworth’s producer of choice this time around, Kelz With Tha Heat, representing Birmingham (UK), showers his tracks with soul ingredients, by now Wordsworth’s signature sound. Soothing as it may be sonically, it’s strictly standard fare for that corner of hip-hop music. Exceptions include the trappish cadence and soundscape of “Skin” featuring Louisiana duo Zues and B.E.A.N. and the vague Top Dawg Entertainment aesthetics of “Thank God For Waking Up”.
If you happen to remember the reinvigorated Wordsworth of his Pearl Gates collaboration “Champion Sounds”, “The Fragility of Life” lacks a similar competitive spirit, even though he’s still perfectly capable of bigging up himself:
“They say the Lord touched him
The cloth I’m cut from
was designed as custom
Blessed – He only cut one”
The BK MC’s priorities are not those of your average rap artist, particularly those who are primarily concerned with how their latest music furthers their career. Consider for a moment ignoring your consumer’s perspective and ponder how pleased rappers really are with their music. Maybe they’re not always quite happy. From this perspective, from (Nas collaborator) Jessica Care Moore’s spoken word introduction to the closing title track (involving, by the sound of it, his offspring), it’s hard to imagine a better album for an artist like Wordsworth.