By Mathieu N. Frasier.
Part 1. An Introduction
Nobody is quite sure when exactly Isaiah G. made his internet debut. But if you were to go out and ask people when he started really gaining notoriety, most people who know who exactly Isaiah G. is would say that he began getting prominent recognition when he entered the Rap Genius Rap Battle, which is taking place from late March to the present day. For those who don’t know, Isaiah G. had ranked fifth favourite among judges out of 60+ contestants, and was able to make it to the semi finals before losing to Duba2424, much to the dismay of Isaiah G’s cult fan base. Nonetheless, Isaiah G. left the tournament with a well established reputation and, as far as alternative Rap websites go, a new found following.
Earlier this week, the world was introduced to a new mixtape by Isaiah G. himself, featuring artists such as Nova C.A.I.N., Dub A. (or Duba2424 for those who know him from the Rap Genius competition) and Tre, who might want to work on changing his name to something that stands out a little more. The mixtape was, at least to the extent it can be with such low scale opportunity for press and advertising, welcomed with open arms, and appears to be well accepted among most of the listeners who provided feedback. But how much of the good feedback is well warranted? Let’s take a look at the mixtape, song by song, and find out.
Part 2. The Review
Song #1: Global Empire
We don’t get off to the best start. The piano in the first thirty seconds would be fine for working up the mood of the mixtape on it’s own, but our host’s attempts at keeping up with the tone and feel of the opening piano segment seem uninspired and forced. There’s a certain lack of potency when speaking of “the darkness of the abyss” or “the sharpness of a razor kiss”, especially seeing as to how unnatural the rhymes within the sentences are. First of all, our host seems to be relying on cliches in order to evoke emotion from our listeners. These cliches include, but are not limited to, “darkness”, “the abyss”, “lerking devils”, “mist”, and so on. It almost seems like Isiah is counting on the words themselves to be potent as opposed to the craftsmanship of the sentences in relation to the subject matter. Secondly, our host seems to be writing lines based more so around the rhyme structure, as opposed to writing natural, more tone oriented sentences. Rhymes are not meant to be forced into songs, they’re supposed to fit in naturally like puzzle pieces. That being said, I happen to find that it usually sounds corny when people are rapping with no drum beat in the background, especially for an intro or outro, and yet people still do it so it may have it’s appeal, and it may mean that I’m not the best person to come to for analyzing this intro.
After the first thirty seconds, our host does manage to set the mood for the rest of the mixtape, and the instrumental is still more than of a high enough standard, but the slow flow is kind of boring (although well delivered), and the boasts and punchlines lack imagery impact. Not only that, but they are sometimes baffling, (when he says, “flow is technological without electricity”, I keep thinking of robotic Rap flows, and I just don’t see how that’s a good thing. Clearly something is going over my head) but for the most part I think it’s the flow that really gets me.
Song #2: Morts (Featuring Nova C.A.I.N.)
As opposed to the last song, I can definitely get behind this one. Despite my complaints about the last song, the instrumental for it was more than enjoyable, and the instrumental for this song is even better. My problems with Isaiah G.’s “boring” flow in the first song is completely demolished, as he switches to a rapid fire pace that complements his ferocious delivery. Although the lyricism may still have some kinks in it that need to be worked out, most of which I’ve outlined in my review of the song before this one, it is still a significant step up from the last song as those problems are further minimised and well hidden by everything our host is doing well. I’ve also noticed that Isaiah G. has a tendancy to throw out punchline after punchline after punchline, and considering his skill set, it’s probably the best method to take. Many of his punchlines are only sub-par when it comes to cleverness and structure, but they still provide enough imagery, and are backed up with such flow and delivery that they’re convincing as well as entertaining. And, through the massive barage of punchlines he pumps out, Isaiah G. manages to hit you with some lines that do more than impress. (And he gets bonus points for when he says, “Call of Duty, nuke the game”. That’s not only a clever use of pop culture, but delivered with more sincerity than most of my favourite rappers could even conjure up. It’s also one of those lines that are simple and yet, due to the subtleties of the structure, really leaves an impact after hearing it.)
When I heard this mixtape, I already knew what to expect, at least to an extent, from Isaiah G. due to what I heard from him in the Rap Genius competition. But when it came to Nova C.A.I.N., I never heard anything from him. I kind of assumed he was just one of Isaiah G.’s weed carriers, like The Outlawz to Tupac, but I was beyond wrong. Isaiah G.’s problem of forced rhymes is not a problem with Nova C.A.I.N.’s verse. As a result, Nova’s technical rhymes are not as complex as Isaiah G’s, but his sentences are so well crafted in terms of just understanding language and sound that they come off as more effective than Isaiah G.’s lyrics, or at least they thoroughly blur the lines between whose lyrics are better or worse. Remember on the first song before this one where I said, “Rhymes are not meant to be forced into songs, they’re supposed to be fit in naturally like puzzle pieces.” This is a rapper who clearly understands that. If you look at his internal rhyming, most of it is kept out of the spotlight in order to work on a subconscious level, and his sentences get the message across on a very thorough degree. As for his delivery and voice, it’s very distinctive and charismatic, and his flow, along with being sufficient, is well complimented by his cadence and character. Nova C.A.I.N. is a bit more polished than Isaiah G., and comes off smoother, but Isaiah’s energy and presence helps provide balance, making it hard to tell who does a better job.
If I could personify this song in one word, that word would be “hungry.” Both emcees come out swinging and ready to prove themselves, and in their own respective ways they each succeed. Even the producer, who I’ve discovered is Dub A., the man who defeated Isaiah G. in the Rap Genius competition, does a valid job of showing off his producing skills. If these rappers were any hungrier, they would starve to death.
Song #3: Good Holidays
I’ve got a soft spot for non-digital sounding samples and instrumentals. That’s not saying that I don’t enjoy listening to digital sounding instrumentals, but I’m more than satisfied to hear this beat, especially as a change up from the last two songs. And the best part about it is that, although it provides a jazz flavour much different from the last two songs on the mixtape, it still fits in and feels appropriate as a whole listening experience.
Our host sends out several boasts about his Rap skills, several punchlines, many of which don’t do anything for me but some of which stand out and are clever and funny. Isaiah. G. doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong here. He comes off as corny, (especially in the chorus) but it’s still fun and it’s certainly not enough to make you not listen. It’s a good song, but it’s only a good song. Nothing, besides the beat, really stands out about it or warrants a second listening.
Song #4: Hakuna Matata
First of all, I’d like to thank Isaiah G. for influencing me to re-listen to the entire “Hakuna Matata” song from “The Lion King”. Secondly, despite the fact that it references “The Lion King”, I just simply don’t like this hook. I wouldn’t really be able to dissect why, ( but if I were to guess, it’s mostly just the rhyme and sounds of words like “Gaga” and “Matata.”) I just don’t like it. As for the verses, they’re full of punchlines, and the delivery is ferocious once again. The problems I had with the first two songs in terms of his lyricism are non-existent, at least on a noticeable scale. I won’t say this song is better than “Morts”, but Isaiah is doing a few things on this song which, had he used on “Morts”, would have made the song even better. This song is Isaiah at his hungriest, which in his case seems to mean Isiah at his best.
But the only reason the beat doesn’t steel the show on this one is that Isaiah’s delivery is as “in your face” as it gets. (That’s a compliment in this case, by the way.) The beat is phenomenal, at least during the verses. It’s new age bombastic styling is not only one that is neck fracturingly decent, it’s one that has the ability to appeal to every kind of Rap fan, from the hardcore nineties purists to the new age pop listeners. Isaiah G. is proving himself to be a talented emcee with the potential to be an underground favourite, but Dub A., who produced every beat on this mixtape thus far, might be too good to be producing the mixtape of some no-name internet rapper. (No offence, Isaiah.)
Song #5: Cultural
Another well produced track, (That’s a fucking surprise -_- ) one in which Isaiah uses to rap about…subject matter? Oh, snap! That’s a change up. Don’t get me wrong, I was totally fine with the constant punchline Rap, but that could only get a rapper so far. Isaiah G. tackles racism and stereotypes, and even though he adds absolutely no new perspective or insight on the situation, he still does a good job keeping the mood and staying relevant to the subject matter. And at the very beginning, using the different cultures as a way to boast about himself was a nice, clever touch. Another solid song. (With all that said, the vocal sample used to make the beat is astoundingly off topic in contrast to the rest of the song, but, whatever, it sounds good!)
Song #6: Adulthood
This song isn’t bad, it just doesn’t do much for me. You can tell he put a lot of heart into it and the lyrics are well crafted, but the song is kind of corny, (especially in the chorus) and it might just be a bit too over the top in terms of the emotion our host is trying to convey. It’s not quite as impactful as it wants to be, but it was a worthy effort. As for Isaiah’s story telling, in which he takes us from a young age towards adult hood, it doesn’t really give you the image that the song desperately needs.
As for the instrumental on this track, it’s unfortunately underwhelming. Not because it’s a bad beat, in fact it’s quite enjoyable, but the beat just comes off as a tad too soft and too sentimental. I’m not sure what I should blame more for where this song fails: Isaiah’s over the top rhymes or the production that demands so much emotion and effectiveness from the emcee, but nonetheless, somebody dropped the ball. Luckily, not disasterously enough to cost them the game.
Song #7: Kicking It Old School
Not sure which decade Isaiah was going for exactly, but he didn’t capture the sound or the spirit precisely. That’s alright because the song is still pretty good. (But this guy, along with approximately every rapper who has ever existed, has to work on writing a good hook. His two line chorus which is designed to exploit his “Bruce Lee, kicking it old school” line isn’t good enough to keep repeating as a replacement for creative and inspired hooks that will get listeners fucking screaming at the top of their lungs. By the way, my neighbors hate me.) Unfortunately, Isaiah’s forced rhymes make a return after making a four song long coffee break. There are moments where you’ll be able to tell that Isaiah is only getting onto a new topic or rhyming a certain word because he can’t think of any other words that rhyme, and that is very distracting. (Take into account where he says “admiration for the things you have forsaken”, or when he spontaneously brings up the fact that he is “emancipated”) Nonetheless, another solid song for the mixtape.
Song #8: Polyrical
This is the second Dub A. beat that kind of bores me. (The first being the beat for “Adulthood”, but even then I think it was the overall tone of the song as opposed to the instrumental itself.) It doesn’t quite hold up to the other work of his that I’ve heard. It has a lot of Dub A.’s trademark sound and style, but they’re just not put to the best work.
Vocally: another corny hook, borderline boring delivery, and approximately the same caliber of punchlines we’ve been hearing thus far. It’s possible that at this point, I’m also just tired of hearing him. Hard to tell. I’ll let you know after I hear the next song.
Song #9: F.U.
Isaiah talks about himself, and not in the way he usually does. We don’t quite get an understanding of his psychology or how exactly he was influenced by his life experiences, but we do start seeing him more on a personal level. The personal subject matter is what really makes this song for me. This song stands out, and works on a level beyond album filler, because it shows Isaiah on a human level, something which hasn’t been done to such an extent on the mixtape until this point, and Isaiah’s delivery and sometimes very descriptive and well constructed lyricism hits the right nerve in terms of conveying the mentality he has. Isaiah tried to give us a sense of himself as a real human earlier on the album, but for the first time on the entire mixtape, Isaiah truly pulls it off.
And, yeah, I am getting bored with this mixtape. It’s nice to hear such a change up from his usual style, and his next song is similar in terms of keeping the sound somewhat fresh, but I just don’t think that Isiah has the necessary skill set to keep a mixtape going this long. But maybe he can still turn this around.
Song #10: Juxtapositioned Progress (featuring Dub A. and Tre)
Like I said, this song, along with the last one on the mixtape, changes the tone from what we’ve heard up to this point. Honestly, I’ve taken a break from listening to this mixtape in order to judge this song on its own merits without attachment to the rest of the recordings, (although I did re-listen to this mixtape three times in sequence just to make sure that I was right about the mixtape’s sustaining power.) and on its own it is a pretty good song. (At least up until the three and a half minute mark.) Isaiah comes in with some pretty good penmanship. Not necessarily Common or Eminem, but it does the job. His delivery is a tad bit over the top, but even then it doesn’t warrant any real complaints outside of informal critical analysis. Once more, the producer showcases his musical skills, and, actually, he show cases his lyrical skills as well. Dub A. proves himself to be, most definitely, a good lyricist, and, judging from this song, he very well may be currently better than our host on a technical level. But Dub A. fails at showing as much charm as Isaiah, as well as potential. Charm, I know, is only an advantage on a subjective level, but I think more often than not his charm will help him stand out more. So even if you don’t like this quality, it certainly does help him stand out.
After the three and a half minute mark, the beat changes to something that is over produced. If I were listening to the mixtape casually, I wouldn’t even know what Isaiah was saying because the loud mesh of unfitting sounds, combined with the over the top delivery of our host, is far too distracting to even care what he’s saying. Now, having heard and analysed what Isaiah is saying, he speaks of rising above the paths set for him and people with his ethnicity and culture, but it sounds more like he’s boasting about himself. Tre makes his guest appearance, but only to repeat a four line sub chorus. Don’t really know what to say about it honestly. Overall, this was a pretty solid song about race and class relations within American community, politics and culture, but you might want to skip the ending.
And, by the way, I don’t think ATM machines provide change. I’m pretty sure they only provide bills, but maybe American ATMs are different. So the line where Isaiah says “this is not an ATM, but I’m still seeking change” doesn’t work. Then again my experience with these magical money providing devices is limited.
Song #11: Cold Soul
Isaiah G. remembers the movie “Wrong Turn”? I thought I was the only one! It’s another song where Isaiah G. boasts, and it’s another song where he does it well. Complaints? I can’t complain about anything that I haven’t complained about on former songs. This is pretty much just more Isaiah G. rapping, and he’s doing the same thing he’s been doing on a lot of these songs, just with a bit less kinks and flaws. It’s nothing I haven’t necessarily heard before, but why fix what’s not broken.
By the way, fucking awesome beat. I was actually surprised to find out that this wasn’t a Dub A. beat, mostly because of it’s quality. It very well might be my favourite on the mixtape. Rap fans, from what I can tell, are typically fans of the Boom Bap sound, and this is Boom Bap in one of it’s most classic forms. Again, it’s nothing I haven’t necessarily heard before, but, like I said, why fix what’s not broken.
Extra notes: that freestyle at the end is charming and well fitting for the song, the “lyrical janitor” line might be a bit too over the top, and this is, without a doubt, one of my favourite songs Isaiah G. provided.
Song #12: Implosion
Isaiah’s style doesn’t quite fit this instrumental. The beat seems to be something that fits into Isaiah’s range, and I could see Isaiah going over an instrumental with similar features, but taking into consideration the instrumental’s current, and final, form, it just doesn’t sound quite natural for Isaiah to rap to it. It’s well produced, and it certainly seems like it caters to a certain audience, although that audience may not be me.
Rap-wise, it’s more of the same. I probably would have liked the lyrics more if he hadn’t already done similar lyrics earlier, but also more effectively, and if it was over an instrumental a bit more tailored to me. Nonetheless, despite a few prominent flaws that were already outlined, Isiah contributes sound lyrics to create another, relatively, sound song.
Song #13: International Style.
The drum beat sounds overly digitized, choppy, and somewhat repetitive, and they are followed by base noises that have similar qualities. Eventually our producer adds some screeching noises to accompany us, and then follows it with soothing piano music and colourful strings during the chorus’, which, as rationality would tell me, should sound out of place and distracting. So why do I like this beat so much? For the record, I have somewhat of a past of liking instrumentals that everyone else hates, so that maybe what’s going on here, and the fact that I didn’t necessarily enjoy the last instrumental would suggest that I may just have bad taste, but if you ask me, this is a hit.
Quite frankly, I’m tired of talking about Isaiah’s rapping style. It’s not because I have anything against it. In fact, I’m sure you’ll find that I have quite a few good things to say about our host at the end of this review, but it’s relatively the same style with the same flaws on every one of his battle songs, and having to hear it this frequently is not necessarily mind numbing, but it certainly doesn’t give me much to write about. As I’ve said earlier, it’s a good style, but one can only take so much without noticeable twists.
Song #14: My Avenue
“My Avenue” is about, as you may have guessed, Isaiah G.’s avenue. The songs reminds me “Juxtapositioned Progress”, mostly because many of the problems Isaiah tackles on “Juxtapositioned Progress” tigh into “My Avenue.” The major difference is that “Juxtapositioned Progress” discussed race and class reliations within the United States and how they affected people and environments, and “My Avenue” seems to be a bit more about living in one of those environments that are so negatively effected by negative race and class relations. They’re both good songs, each with some very distinctive features, but it might have not been the best idea to have them both on the same mixtape. Regardless, it is another good addition to Isaiah’s catalogue.
This time, the instrumental, besides sounding good in the background, doesn’t leave much of an impression. But that’s the first time in a long time.
Another plus: It’s got a pretty good hook, as far as Rap hooks go. That’s not something I can say about most of the other songs on this mixtape.
Song #15: Song for Erbie (Unforgettable)
I really hoped this song was perfect, just so that I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt of ragging on a heartfelt song about a dead eighteen year old boy. Well, no song is perfect, but it was passionately written, not to mention well written, well produced, and performed sufficiently enough. I could force out some nitpicks, but it would only be nitpicks and I’m kind of tired of writing this. The one criticism I have is that mentioning that “(this is) a song for Erbie Underwood” during the chorus may not be the most poetic of ways to go about writing your tribute. Other than that, no real complaints.
Part 3. Epilogue
Remember earlier when I said, “Why fix what’s not broken?” Well, Isaiah G.’s style is certainly not broken, but it may need a bit of fixing up. Considering his current status as an emcee, he simply does not seem to have the skill set to keep you interested for a whole hour. (Much like I may not have the skill set to keep you interested for close to four and a half thousand words.) Taking into consideration the mixtape I’m reviewing, Isaiah G. really does have the talent to pump out, at the very least, good song after good song after good song, (with a few bad to mediocre songs thrown into the mix) but when you add all those songs up, they don’t provide the best listening experience for the consumer. My advice to Isaiah G. (who has proven to have more potential than any amateur rapper I’ve heard thus far) is to release LPs with a group of rappers (if he’s not in one already) and release solo EPs until he has mastered his style, and advanced it enough to release solo LPs of a higher caliber. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it will be much work before he reaches the level of talent to do so, but a little work can go a long way.
This may be labeled Isaiah G.’s mixtape, but it showcases a lot of production talent as well, particularly from the main producer, Dub A., so let’s talk about him as well. I want to take the time out to address some of the praise I gave to the production, because re-reading it now, I’m not sure if it’s as well warranted as I originally thought. Dub A.’s production for this mixtape truly is outstanding compared to what I’ve heard from most unheard of producers, and does rank up there with a lot of producers who actually do have strong followings, but there is one major fault with Dub A.’s producing and here it is: it limits the abilities of our host.I’m a big fan of Kutmasta Kurt, so let’s use him as an example. If we compare Dub A.’s instrumentals to instrumentals by Kutmasta Kurt, I wouldn’t expect most people to tell me that Kutmasta Kurt is the better producer on a purely musical level. With no vocals over beats, Dub A.’s music is, simply put, more pleasant to listen to. But as a Rap music producer, one of your primary concerns is to make instrumentals that rappers can rap to without limiting the skills or creativity of the emcee in question. And, as it would seem, the instrumentals are a bit more focused on being their own thing as opposed to support for the rapper they were designed for. As a result, it seems that Isiah isn’t always provided with enough room to reach his creative and technical prime. Meanwhile, Kurt is someone who makes instrumentals that seem to cater to the potential and stylings of the rappers he makes beats for on a much broader scale, which actually accentuates the positive attributes of an emcee as opposed to limiting them. If we were looking at the production on this mixtape from just an instrumental standpoint, there would be no problem. But as beats designed for rappers, many of them seem to suffer from this one major fault. But keep in mind, it’s only one major flaw.
Overall, you might be wondering if this mixtape is worth a listen. Well, it’s deffinately worth at least one. There’s a lot of talent here, and more importantly a lot of potential being showcased. And if you’re a fan of hunger filled battle raps, you might want to listen to this mixtape and look out for Isaiah G. in the near future.
Status: Highly Recomended.