It’s been a bit of a dry spell for Evidence since the release of his last solo LP, the quietly impressive Weatherman LP, in 2007. He’s dropped an EP and a Beatles-inspired mixtape to hold fans over in the meantime, but judging by the poise of his new album, Cats & Dogs, Evidence has been using his time wisely: he’s come through with a cohesive and personal set of songs that is sure to satisfy fans of quality, no-frills Hip-Hop.
The material on Cats & Dogs may as well be described as meat-and-potatoes rap: introspective and observational rhymes accompanied by formalist beats characterized by hard drums and swirling loops of keyboards and processed strings. Evidence makes note of the lengthy gap between albums, and certainly, some of the personal trials he chronicles on Cats & Dogs explain part of it. But he also makes several references to the extensive touring he’s done all over the globe. “The Red Carpet,” the clear-cut standout on the album, sees Ev trading bars with Raekwon and Ras Kass over a killer Alchemist sample taken from Congress Alley’s moving “God Bless America”. “Fame,” another highlight posse cut, is a Charli Brown-produced banger so entertainingly gritty that you might miss Prodigy’s gem of a guest-verse if you’re not paying close attention.
That the collaborations are so essential speaks to the way in which Evidence utilizes his guests: rather than being tacked on, the featured artists here consistently embody the sound or sentiment that Evidence is shooting for (whether it’s Lil’ Fame adding a jolt of hardcore energy to the murky “Where You Come From?” or Slug and Aesop Rock getting metaphor-heavy on the more pensive “Late for the Sky”).
Lyrically, there are also some moments of real maturity on Cats & Dogs. Far from being bitter at still being considered “only” an underground rapper, Evidence is content with the opportunities that his career has afforded him (on “The Red Carpet”: “I’m putting people on/They off welfare, and got healthcare, and used to have their priorities elsewhere”). On “I Don’t Need Love,” Ev paints a sincere picture of grief (“While Kanye was chasing “Spaceships” all over the nation/I was at the gravesite, face on the pavement”) and the emotional unavailability that sometimes results from it. The reference to ‘Ye makes for a relevant counterpoint: the honest, yet removed vantage point that Ev takes up on the song is an interesting contrast to the immediate, engulfed sentiment that permeated West’s own 808s & Heartbreak, an album that tackled similar topics.
Despite there being nary a complete miss on Cats & Dogs, the album, like many rap projects, would benefit from shedding three of four passable, but ultimately unnecessary tracks. Mostly, though, Evidence ends up sounding overly concerned with the idea of not compromising his traditionalist appeal – in turn, he never attempts to draw outside the lines. Ev is content to tread the same lyrical and sonic ground that has been covered before him. So although this is solid stuff, it’s utterly unambitious. The thing is, Evidence seems fine with that. On album closer, “The Epilogue,” he raps: “And I ain’t claim to be a game changer/I claim the West, Venice Beach, RSE, and Dilated.” Ev understands exactly what he’s bringing to the table. It’s no wonder he’s capable of knocking out albums as well-rounded as Cats & Dogs.
Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment | Producers: Evidence, DJ Premier, Alchemist, Statik Selektah, Sid Roams, Khrysis, DJ Babu, Rahki, Daniel “Danny Keyz” Tannenbaum, Twiz The Beat Pro, Charli Brown