Ben Yomen :: The Circles in Which We Walk :: LFTB/OPHOTN Records
as reviewed by Pedro 'DJ Complejo' Hernandez

I really had no clue what to expect as I popped this CD into my car stereo during my long drive home for spring break. I initially thought this an album from a group called BenyoMen as the artwork features 3 silouetted figures and the spacing between Ben and Yomen is not well defined. After the first few songs I realized it was the same emcee song after song and after hearing about his Jewish roots the name made much more sense. It took a full 12 songs and an appearance from label-mate Mr. Cleen for me to realize I had experience with Ben's label and crew. With this said, my clueless approach was probably a mixed blessing for Ben Yomen as this release would have been a huge disappointment had I known it was the next release from Mr. Cleen's label. Mr. Cleen's debut "Audiobesity" was an average release that I felt was hindered by its topic matter but definitely had its highlights, I expected further LFTB releases to only get better. With "The Circles in Which We Walk," LFTB records took a step in the right direction musically, but lyrically it failed horribly as Ben Yomen hasn't quite made the transition from slam poet to rapper and makes Mr. Cleen sound like Rakim in comparison.

Ben Yomen's Jewish roots probably beg a comparison to everyone's favorite Jewish rapper MC Paul Barman, but this comparison is actually justified not because of their religion but because of their flow. Paul Barman does not possess the best flow in the game, matter of fact his flow would probably be annoying and unbearable if not for his witty lyrics and off the wall topic matter. Ben Yomen's flow is reminiscent of Barman's somewhat awkward approach, but it reminds me more of what I imagine Barman sounded like the first time he picked up a mic. This one deficiency is what brings down what would have been a pretty good album.

Lyrically, Yomen isn't bad at all if you can manage to stomach his flow. Sandwiched in between his conscious raps and uplifting message are a few witty one-liners and plenty of thought-provoking lyrics. Musically the album is great as it features a creative approach to beat making that pays off. The live saxophone of Dan Heflin on "Spiritual People" and "Making Music" really adds life to those tracks and is an unconventional approach to hip-hop beats that should be applauded. The bass line on "West Coast Blues" sets the mood for the track well and the female vocals in the hook only add to the bluesy feel of the song. The fast-paced and sometimes chaotic "Poetry Am I" almost sounds futuristic, especially when the track is infused with a small amount of background static during the hook. The lush mix of instruments of the aforementioned "Spiritual People" would give Stoupe a run for his money, but doesn't come off sounding like an imitation. The rest of the album is filled with production that at times pushes the limits of what a hip-hop beat is and at other times simply conforms to the head-nodding loop based nature of underground music. The result is the same no matter what approach is taken as the album is full of good music from start to finish.

With so many good things said, it's hard to imagine how Ben Yomen's flow could bring this album down so much but it does. Guest appearances on the album only bring Yomen's wack flow to the forefront. Mr. Cleen's appearance on Dream State (which ironically criticizes those who criticize (reviewers)) is the best example of a guest making Ben Yomen sound downright bad. Mr. Cleen's clear voice and steady and solid flow makes Ben Yomen sound simple and elementary. When he flows, Yomen either keeps a very simple cadence dropping a syllable per downbeat or tries to experiment with more complex flows and fails. The simple approach is too elementary as it sounds like an amateur trying to ride a beat for the first time. When Yomen tries anything different the verses are filled with undecipherable moments when Yomen mashes words together in an attempt to catch up to the beat but tends to raise his voice and catch his breath all at the same time. If he's not falling behind the beat he's playing catch up and has to awkwardly pause to get on time. It's not that Ben Yomen is off beat, as he stays on beat constantly, but he does not command the mic and his flow as a true emcee should. He needs to work on breath control and avoiding moments where he raps too quickly as he tends to mumble.

Rating this album was difficult. Musically it naturally earned a high mark, but that is only half the formula. Purely based on lyrics and not delivery Yomen might also earn a high mark, but ultimately his flow is too immature and undefined to carry an album. With more work, Yomen may one day earn a good mark overall, but for now his weak flow is the albatross hanging over what would have been a very good album.

Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 3.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5.5 of 10

Originally posted: March 22, 2005