When it comes to hip hop, there's one guy who can always be counted on. Hawthorne, California's own RedCloud. Never heard of him? Check out his MySpace, and you'll see why he is one of the greatest in the game today. Syntax Records thought so too, as he is now part of their family of artists (home to mostly hip hoppers, but also bands like Transistor Radio and Olivia The Band). Is This Thing On? marks his debut album with the label.
After a humorous intro track, we get a taste of what's in store with "Last of the Mex-Hee-Cans." It features a none-too-common beat, and unique vocals (some have found them slightly annoying, others just love them). Following is one of the songs that got Cloud noticed, "When Kenpo Strikes," a martial arts anthem, of all topics. But the usage of the chorus from Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" (albeit, a slightly revamped usage) makes it one of the catchiest and entertaining songs on the album. And with lyrics like "I walk out the front he follows closely/Reaching for his pistol, he's trying to smoke me/Backflip kick and chip his front teeth/His homeboys blocking off the whole street...So freaking close I wrecked my clean clothes/Koreans multiplying like sheets from Kinko's," you start to see the talent of his flows. That's not an example of when he's at his peak, but it's good wordplay nonetheless.
For the next six songs, a plethora of guest emcees are enlisted. RedCloud's crew, Sackcloth Fashion, salute their home state of California in "Cali Blacktop," while Playdough takes the hook of "RedClouds By Day," in the midst of the impeccable lyricism of Mr. Cloud. Pigeon John, not being one to shy away from a guest appearance (having appeared with artists like Grits, KJ-52, and even PAX217), takes over the mic for portions of "The Pigeon John Song." The song itself is very good, with a cool reggae-ish beat and funny lyrics about a joke obsession RedCloud has with Pigeon, but one thing that is hard to get over is the use of the "n word" about halfway through the song. Granted, it's not in a racist or hateful way, it's used more in the "homeboy" way, and it's used when RedCloud is mocking Pigeon (as Pigeon sometimes uses the word in his own songs). But it still feels like it could've gone without being said.
The reggaeness continues into "Musical Aggression," and for what better reason than the fact that Christian reggae artist Christafari makes an appearance in this song. It's another fast-flowed track and Christafari's rap skills prove to be quite impressive, although he can be a bit hard to understand at times. Now if he could just incorporate more of his rap ability into his own music, we would be set. The tempo slows down dramatically for another of the quasi-popular songs from the album, "Otherside of the Pillow." "Zoom to the room where clues are consumed/He's not in His tomb/He has blossomed and bloomed/He's cool, cool, cool like the/Cool like the other side of the pillow." More on the cheesy side of the spectrum, but a good laid-back jam. More serious lyrics - and some of my favorites from the album - are in the John Reuben-esque song "Final Daez": "Son of Sam's on death row and born again/Still I sit still and watch the porn again/What is the point of this flesh, so restless/If it can't do me justice in Heaven's guest list?" Christians face struggles like that everyday. It may not be pornography, but when we see people on death row repenting, and we're sitting around living for our flesh, when we realize it, it hurts.
Following is the low-key "Infinite Sonic," which then pumps its way into RedCloud paying homage to his Native American heritage in "Koyote Gospel," where he tells a story about the persecution of his tribe. He is very proud of his heritage, and it shows with this song of hurt and redemption. Bringing the pace back up with some "Ridiculous Junk" is Braille, MaxOne, Man of War and Gibraan, and finishing off the album is the folky and upbeat "Is This Thing On?".
It's not hard to see why Syntax picked up this wonderful artist. The label has a knack for finding the freshest talent, and RedCloud is a perfect fit. Even if you do think his vocals are annoying at times (and I'll be honest, I can see why some might say that, but also being honest, I love them!), you can't deny the talent that emanates from this emcee, and is displayed through his music and ability to flow with the best. If you can find this album anywhere, make sure to pick up a copy.- Review date: 5/27/08, written by Scott Fryberger
Record Label: Syntax Records
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