Since I began reviewing albums for this site, the majority of my reviews have been of artists whose work I’m familiar with. Therefore I have a sense of what that particular artist is capable of and the bar is usually pre-set for how good (or not so good) their latest work is. While the likes of Cormega, Rapsody and others have impressed me by the same token I’ve been unimpressed by the latest Wu album.
Reviewing the work of an artist that I’m not familiar with is a little more difficult because I have nothing previous to compare it to. When I came across the latest effort from the M.C.-producer combo Constant Deviants “Avant Garde”, I admittedly had no previous knowledge of their work so I didn’t know what to expect. As an admitted old school disciple, my standards of quality hip hop has always been simple:dope lyrics,dope beats and a certain star quality (because let’s face it, anybody can rhyme with enough effort given but everyone simply doesn’t have that certain presence on the mic). After a few sittings with this album, I came away with two main thoughts: M.I. (the rapper) has all the qualities of a great M.C. and D.J. Cutt (the producer/D.J.) has the same great qualities as a beatsmith. With the countless number of rappers on the scene, I tend to be a little skeptical of artists that aren’t on my favorites list. It takes a certain something to hold my attention for an entire album when I may be anxious to get back to my Gangstarr or M.F. Doom albums. That’s just what the Constant Deviants did though as I found myself remarking numerous times throughout the album “this is dope”.
Although they may be new to me, I discovered that they are both veterans in the hip hop game with some major ties to industry bigwigs. Baltimore rapper M.I. (mic’s illest or Mr. Impossible) has worked with manager Mark Pitts of Bad Boy fame and signed a major label deal with Arista in 2000. DJ Cutt has engineered Roc-a-fella Records releases from N.O.R.E., Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek. Very impressive resumes, I must say. Originally forming their group in the mid 90’s, the duo would reunite in 2009, forming Six2Six Records. Avant Garde is actually their fourth studio album.
“There’s great storytelling here, words of wisdom, braggadocia, a bit of thuggery…..something for everyone”
As for the music, everything is intact here. M.I. is a talented lyricist that walks the thin line perfectly between being thought-provoking and not being overly complicated. He has a distinct elderly-statesman like voice that commands respect but still blends nicely with the production. The subject matter is versatile as he touches on the street life in one breath then comes right back with a more philosophical approach. It’s basically the duality of man that isn’t all good or all bad. One thing that really stuck out to me is M.I.’s hooks. They’re catchy and melodic, tying together his verses nicely and displaying his ability as a great songwriter as opposed to just a 16 bars rapper. The single “Breathin” is easily my favorite track on the album. The beat is very Dilla-esque and it’s the track that I had to repeat several times during my listening of the album. All the beats here are top notch. DJ Cutt
may have been unknown to me prior but after hearing his work here, I’ll definitely be checking for his work in the future. His beats have that golden era quality to them but by the same token, they sound fresh and not like some recycled 90’s tracks. I also liked how he incorporated scratches into the tracks, cutting up everything from Onyx to Slick Rick. He even got in a line from my favorite old school movie Beat Street, so I was won over just from that.
There’s great storytelling here, words of wisdom, braggadocia, a bit of thuggery…something for everyone. You can tell that both M.I. and Cutt are not only veterans of the game but also students of the game and fans of the greats. They follow the blueprint here nicely. My only issue is I was looking for that one big, signature track that all of the legends created in their primes and I just didn’t hear it. That’s not a knock on the tracks on the album by any means as there are really no weak moments. It’s a great listen for fans of good, quality music. Constant Deviants have found a good balance between hardcore and reflective lyrics as well as golden era hip hop and today’s hip hop. I must say I was impressed by “Avant Garde” and this duo is definitely on my “hip hop radar” now. Definite recommendation.