“History is written by the victors”.

Winston Churchill

Centuries down the line, when our descendants revisit the tomes of Hip-Hop history, their understanding of the early years will quickly come back to the usual list of legends. Well, as long as the history books are documented correctly (f*** an MTV situation). There should be a chapter written on Jersey’s Ransom, easily one of the best rappers of the 2020s who has gradually reinvented himself over the past decade. Whereas fellow rhyme machine RJ Payne transferred his vicious battle rap background into his aggressive musical output, Ransom’s approach has felt more thoughtful. He’s a calculated emcee, possessing precise diction and a vocabulary not dissimilar to Rakim on steroids. It’s a different proposition to Rakim with muscles, an adage that goes to the great Freddie Foxxx, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. Ransom is highly respected within the culture and has been on his own warpath, seeking out his place atop the rap throne. A steady stream of strong EPs ensures he’s never far from a playlist appearance, obtaining higher profile features on records from Russ, Conway the Machine and Lloyd Banks. The way he has improved over the past decade has been an overlooked aspect of recent Hip-Hop history, and with his latest release, he’s recruited Brooklyn’s Harry Fraud to craft some of his best work.

The theme of power is commonly covered by rappers, and it dominates the eight tracks on offer here. Obvious artwork aside, there is a contemplative side to Ransom where he’s more frank than I was expecting. Like Nas (“God’s Son”) and Jay-Z (“Jay Hova”), Ransom likes to bring religious iconography into his rhymes, and “Immaculate Conception” paints a picture of an emcee striving for perfection. This is made obvious on the excellent track “Chain of Command”, which includes a verse populated with references that read like a rap fan’s wet dream:

"They thinkin' I'm kinda nuts and still wonderin' where my screws went
In 1999, they was checkin' me for some new prints
Little red Corvette, purple rain on my new mink
+In My Lifetime+, no +Reasonable Doubt+ I gave 'em +The Blueprint+
And never got a title, but scripted the +Holy Grail+ in the Bible
Loaded tales of a rival
They said +It Was Written+, that hip-hop was nearly dead on arrival
I fear the feds for survival, no tears are shed for your idols
Turned civilized men to savage too, see that is true
'Cause n**** +I Am...+ +Magic 2+, we passing through
Stop your moles, in a glass house they throwing rocks and stones
Still +Life Is Good+ but you gotta +Watch The Throne+
And if you don't, you get a +King's Disease+
They say I'm like Jordan with +Unfinished Business+, how many rings you need?
I'm +God's Son+ but still a +Street's Disciple+
They say the worst thing you can do is try to beat your idols

It’s a brilliantly playful ode to the two, while also feeling like a cheeky jab. “The Losses” actually names Jay, with Ran’ admitting that he has spent most of his career trying to catch him (“but he ain’t give that title up”).

Boldy James can be an acquired taste, but his verse on “Live From the Roxy” is a welcome guest feature, with his deeper, more conversational approach a good match for Ransom. Frequent collaborator 38 Spesh supplies his usual, densely written style and obnoxious sense of humor on “Wilson Fisk”, but it’s not quite the level of Spesh we’ve grown accustomed to.

When he states “everything about Ran’ is a mystery, I etched out my name in history”, for many of us, he already has. It’s a cliche at this point, but he is a rapper’s rapper, the type of emcee you’re proud to know about. Bars are littered with references to Biggie, The Wire and The Godfather, yet never feel tired or played out, wearing his influences on his sleeve without sounding like he’s going through the Hip-Hop handbook. That is primarily down to a pen that’s been flexed and finessed relentlessly, year-on-year, but it can’t be underplayed the role of Harry Fraud here. Ransom albums and EPs can (and have) had their moments before disappearing into the annals of online rap releases, but “Lavish Misery” lingers in the memory. It combines some of that nostalgia for cinema you inevitably inherit from an artist that’s been around for a while releasing film-centric mixtapes like the “Director’s Cut” series. Still, with the dramatic strings of “La musica de Harry Fraud”, I enjoyed this even more than I expected. Their styles mesh well because these types of records can easily end up feeling like a bunch of beats and bars, but this doesn’t. It’s a classy effort, a real power play.

“Just skim through my discography, the majority will say I’m the greatest breathing, arguably”

Ransom & Harry Fraud :: Lavish Misery
8.5Overall Score