With Evidence continuing to further his solo career and no Dilated Peoples album on the horizon, Rakaa Iriscience appeared content to rest on his laurels. But an internal spark seemingly risen the “son of a preacher man” from his self-imposed hiatus, as he debuts his long player Crown Of Thorns. Weaving politically tinged rhymes over head nod-inducing beats, Rakaa shows he’s not taking a back seat to anyone.
Opening up with the titular jewel “Crown of Thorns,” Rakaa takes a look back on his career trajectory with unabashed honesty. Bolstered by the soul-drenched chorus of Aloe Blacc and purgative organs from Sid Roams, he reflects on the subjects of maintaining artistic credibility, attained level of success versus expectations & the roller coaster nature of constant touring with passages like, “We coulda done more probably/but we did what did do properly (true) – Now I’m older than I thought I’d be/holding less property & money flow awkwardly…”
Instead of throwing a pity party, Rakaa dusts himself off and keeps moving along. Tracks like “The Observatory” and “Eyes Wide” allow Iriscience to share his views on how conspiracy theories, world events and political influences have all coagulated to produce the world we inhabit. Normally when an artist focuses so much attention on one area, they have trouble exploring different topics. But both songs, enhanced by appearances from Mad Lion and Krondon on their respective choruses, don’t forsake musical enjoyment due to the weightier subject matter.
Two of the album’s gems are “Delilah,” where he recounts playing the fool while dealing with lies and deception in a relationship, and “Upstairs” when Rakaa draws from his personal experiences. Evidence provides the perfect balance of upbeat piano chops & wailing vocal samples on “Delilah” while Rakaa spits his cautionary tale. “Upstairs” is even more somber with Iriscience reflecting on the loss of a loved one over an Alchemist backdrop. It manages to be both sparse & heavy at the same time. Moments like these go a long way in helping Rakaa connect with listeners.
It’s always a shaky proposition when a group member goes the solo route because their contribution level triples right off the bat. Handling all the rhyme slinging on 10 of the albums 13 tracks, Rakaa’s able to expand his ideas without much of a drop in quality. It’s when Rakaa gets a little too generous with booth time on “Ambassador Slang” do things taper off a bit as eight emcees from across the globe trade generic bars. And consistent as it may be, the album’s peak never rises to the level where the term “breakthrough” could be applied.
With varied, yet stellar production from the likes of Sid Roams, Evidence, Alchemist, El-P, DJ Babu, !Illmind & Exile, Crown of Thorns gives listeners a full range of sounds to vibe to while maintaining a constant flow throughout. While it may have been several years in the making, Rakaa didn’t disappoint on this very solid initiation.