Once again, this is not a review. It’s more like a recommendation. Peep the disclaimer here. Bo!
One of the hardest working emcee/producers in San Diego, Edgar IsReal (with the assistance of vet emcee/producer extraordinaire, Trust One) has come together with a remarkable new talent by way of New Jersey, rapper Emphasize, giving us an unexpected, yet sophisticated work that challenges a paradigm I have come to take for granted. The two have so graciously put up for free download an 11-track extended player (most would call that an album these days), The Standstill Motions EP. Sample-based, sharp production underlays one of the most natural sounding, multi-syllabic deliveries, coupled with an easy-on-the-ears voice, giving the project a copacetic feel that easily lends itself to being left in the deck.
The album sets out with one of three interlude beats which in turn establishes the feel of the album. Bright samples and loud, crunchy drums, give the production a complexion that is consistent and complementary to the vocals. With production from both Edgar IsReal (all but three being credited to Edgar) and Trust One alike, one might expect the EP to not come off as cohesive as it does. Both Edgar and Trust hail from the same campsite and come with a stamp that rings familiar enough to establish a crew brand without treading anywhere near biting off each other.
Up next at track 2 is the unarguable gem of the entire project: the harmonious yet crackin’ “Balance”. This is our first introduction to the new emcee, Emphasize, and he immediately lets us know that he is capable of doing more with his voice than rap. With a melodic sing-song hook, he enables the listener to enter the project with a relaxed and open mind. Normally I would begin to throw-up inside my mouth at this type of notion but Emphasize delivers without corn nor Autotune. The sample usage is a dreamy, guitar twang with a drum break that makes one think of Biz’s “Just a Friend”. Emphasize begins his first verse:
Rotating with the atmosphere with the ill flow
Influences from Big Daddy Kane to Wilco
Disco from my biological Pops, the real soul
Spinning like an infinite record that surely will blow
With a steez the sways between nostalgia to the positive outlook on life that Emphasize reimagines throughout the entire project, we are taken through the psyche of an emcee that amazingly doesn’t seem troubled, angry or cynical. Refreshingly enough, Emphasize, unlike so many of us (myself included), isn’t a hater.
Another attention-getter on the EP is the Trust One-produced “Listen”. With a high-paced energy and up-tempo BPM, Emphasize displays a graceful, fast delivery that doesn’t quite enter into the usually poorly-attempted/overdone “double time”. With this project being my first introduction to Jersey-bred emcee, seeing this kind of versatility is always impressive. While one might expect this from Edgar IsReal, Trust One, or Moderfire (a stable of emcees known for executing the staccato flow to perfection), seeing the new edition to the flock meet them on their own turf shows the high bar doesn’t get ignored. Trust One, this being his only contribution to the project beat-wise that isn’t an intro/interlude, comes correct on the production end, displaying an ear for making samples work together.
While the overall message of Emphasize is one of positivity and the internal struggle that we all have with it, the one track on the project that confronts his personal blues head-on is the mellow, clarinet-driven “Therapy in Rhythm”. Edgar sets the “stage” for Emphasize by introducing the emcee to a pseudo-roomful-of-listeners. Emphasize rhymes:
We’re stronger with a purpose, as massive as the earth is
Some days my brain is hurtin’, on this path I’d rather curse it
But somewhere, deep inside, there’s a great occurance
Steady stirring its way from the gut to the outer surface
The song goes on to delve into the emcee’s personal struggle, detailing the dialog of his ego, id and true self. While I’m not normally one for therapy, I can appreciate the personal wars we wage for our souls.
Being your typical grouchy, fatigued, semi-disgusted type cat, I found the attitude of the project difficult at first. However, after being drawn in by the craft and quality of sound, I was able to sit with the project long enough to let the cheerful rhymes and pleasant blush of production draw me in. Quite frankly, it became refreshing and renewing. Emphasize allows the audience to enjoy an elevated listening experience by virtue of the energy he conveys. With verses by both Trust One and Edgar Isreal, instrumental interludes, and guest cuts by DJ Kemtrell, the project is well-rounded without being bogged down by filler. While the themes might not be what you would expect from a rap album these days, make no mistake: this is an old-fashioned hip-hop record worth spending some time with. With all that being said, I will be curious to see what Emphasize’s content is looking like 10 years from now.