Rasquiz Johnson (the Canadian-Jamaican emcee better known as “Raz Fresco”) just gets better with age, like the finest of wines. Dropping the first of several dozen albums, mixtapes, and EP’s in 2010 at the age of 15, the Ontario rapper/producer has made a name for himself both individually and as a member of the hip-hop collective known as the Bakers Club. Like many underground Canadian hip-hop artists (Saukrates, Haz, et. al.), he has a predilection towards being lyrically inclined over boom-bap era productions. His latest release, “777”, is no exception. A collaborative album entirely produced by German beatsmith Figub Brazlevic, the music and the rhymes are certainly bound to be a surprise to even the staunchest boom-bap fans.
“777” contains ten tracks less than thirty minutes in total length. However, that’s enough space for Raz to work his lyrical prowess. Though Raz is a producer in his own right (having laced beats for Wale, Big Sean, Bishop Nehru, and the late Mac Miller), he lets Brazlevic work his magic behind the boards. Beginning with “Ayinger Märzen”, Raz spits over a beat layered with piano keys and string samples. After the intro is “Hollow Heads”, where Raz’s wordplay, internal multis, and flow truly begin to shine. Raz rhymes “Cut from a different cloth, no common thread / You got a hollow head, get filled with hollow heads” and gets an assist from fellow Bakers Club emcee The 6th Letter, who makes several appearances throughout the album.
On “Black For Green”, Raz displays his storytelling abilities and how he can weave them with social commentary. Almost on cue, 6th Letter makes a quick return to help provide a message to the youth on his respective verse. “Do You Love You Or Do You Love Money” begins with a dark and moody atmosphere, but slightly lightens up when Raz begins to rap. Both he and rapper Gawd 5 spin lyrical yarns about the ultimate cons of drug-dealing based on their own experience. Thus far in his productions here, Brazelvic’s style is evidently sample-based boom-bap, and he laces the elements together well. I will say that there’s a certain sheen to his sound that doesn’t at all detract, though it is noticeable. Additionally, Raz must’ve had copious amounts of German beers when working with Brazlevic, as the next track (much like the intro) is named after one. “Früh Kölsch” stands out musically with its jazzy horns, and Raz’s back-to-back breathless rhyme schemes toward the end:
“No Magnetic” begins with a somber tone, but the snares bring it to life. Lyrically, Raz raps words of wisdom and about how rampant mediocrity is. The 6th Letter makes his third and final appearance on “New Western”, a stream-of-consciousness venting of frustration from both men framed (from the sound of the song’s hook) as a newscast. The album’s lead single, “Stereo”, has a very interesting beat with Raz making references to conspiracy theories and youthful nostalgia:
The final two tracks begin with “Stand Up”, where Raz cleverly raps “one million rhymes locked & loaded / watch for the truth, it’s what they not promotin’,” before the beat drops. Closing out the album is the title-track, which begins with a sampled string arrangement before transitioning into a more traditional sound. “777” was a better album than I anticipated. For though many producers out there can lace a ‘90s New York City sample-based production, it’s only a small sliver who can do so where the music is in virtually perfect sync with the lyrics as on “777”.