by Dom Jones
When ¡BANG! first comes on your speakers, you’re sure of one thing: you’re about to be transported to a different era of hip-hop, that still lives, but on the periphery and in the shadows and basements of the mainstream. The question is whether you’ll enjoy this quantum leap into what some consider hip-hop’s “golden era.” Professor Ellis or Raydar, however you may be familiar with him; is offering, probably unintentionally, a music history lesson on this album. The first thirty seconds of the first track prove that the listener will not be able to ascertain the full intention of every song without giving it a serious listen. This album cannot be treated like background music.
Starting off with “Never Take Me Alive,” this track establishes Raydar as an astute emcee who is clearly from the East Coast, for the listener who new to him (*raises hand*). The beginning feels like a story about a night out, but by the hook, it feels like a story about survival. The post-hook transitions into a hard rock feel, reminiscent of something Run DMC may have done back in the day, and then it’s over. “Homecoming Marching Band” is fun, referencing one of the most iconic tracks in hip-hop, LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” but the drum pattern is less boom-bap and leaning more towards Uncle Luke, which is surprising, unexpected, and a little strange, until we reach one of the most fun tracks on the album, “Zone.” Not only might this song have been played at Freaknik (lol), it insanely samples “Free” by Deniece Williams. It’s easily my favorite track on the album.
The title ¡BANG! is apt, as Raydar’s rapping does take on a hard hitting stance, both in tone and in phrasing. It doesn’t let up much, even on the jazzy tune that broaches the topic of romance and introduces a female singer, “Sunday Mornin.” Throughout the project, we also hear Raydar take on singing, but not in a Drake-esque fashion, moreso in the traditional way of an emcee singing a hook… think Black Star’s “Brown Skin Lady.” The final track on the album, “J.U.M.P.” is just as hard-hitting as the first song, both through production and in lyrical delivery.
Ultimately, I think hip-hop heads will enjoy the second half of the project more than the first, as it transitions from experimental with clear hip-hop references to more traditional with musical experimentation as an undertone. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and what is unclear is how this album might play with the current generation (or even if the current generation is Raydar’s target audience). I think the first half of the album will do a good job of reeling in his students because the experimentation part is unique enough, and the referential part (at least for Berklee students) will inspire research. The success of Jay-Z’s 4:44 proves that sample-heavy hip-hop albums can still be commercially viable and successful, while also heavily impacting and influencing culture. While ¡BANG! feels less narrative-driven than 4:44, it does broach similar topics, especially as it relates to cooperative economics.
When I think about it, I’d put Raydar closer to Rakim than Jay, and most hip-hop fans think of Rakim as Jay’s senior, though Ra is 49 years old and Jay is 47. It speaks to how quickly music, but especially hip-hop can move, and how someone born is 1980 can have a completely different lens on the genre than someone born in 1985. Give this project a listen and tell us how it hits your ears.
¡BANG! IS AVAILABLE TO STREAM ON Soundcloud. TELL US YOUR FAVORITE TRACK IN THE COMMENTS!