The recent wave of music by young rappers attempting to break with established rules and conventions has been accompanied by something of a revivalist streak in a bunch of other artists. So while the biggest thing happening in New York rap happens to sound more like Bone Thugs than Mobb Deep, there are still plenty of rappers rummaging through the classic styles borne out of mid-90s New York Hip-Hop. Some have completely engulfed themselves in nostalgic pastiche, while others have attempted to gently shift established styles into a more modern landscape.
Pleateau Vision, the latest album from Philadelphia rapper-producer Lushlife, falls into that second category. As an MC, Lushlife is a traditionalist all the way, his raps packed with syllables tumbling one after the other at breakneck speed, often with internal rhymes abound. Early Nas has rightly been brought up as a reference point (Lushlife doesn’t possess the same gravitas or mic presence, but the influence is evident). He also evokes Raekwon in his fly talk, right down to his past penchant for Wallabee boots. But Lushlife also adds his own personal touches to the album. He’s just as likely to name drop J. Dilla as Henry James, and he has to be the first rapper to intersperse dialogue from Joseph Campbell’s PBS documentary series “The Power of Myth” in between tracks.
Where Lushlife really saves Plateau Vision from becoming just another adequately executed throwback LP is on the production side. Strip away the rapping and some of the beats on the album—many of them dreamy and spacious in design—would only vaguely resemble conventional hip-hop production: the bare-bones piano arrangement on the Shad-featured “Gymnopedie 1.2” recalls Jon Brion circa Requiem for a Dream, while “Magnolia” wouldn’t sound out of place playing during the final credits of a black and white film. “Big Sur” breaks with the slower tempos and also happens to be the most instantly gratifying track on the album – the lively drums and brass section breathing energy into the LP.
But while Lushlife strikes an interesting contrast between his traditional approach to emceeing and his more forward-thinking production, Plateau Vision only half-convincingly answers the question that is bound to pop up with this kind of project, namely: why listen to this when I can just listen to the rappers that inspired it? Certainly, the raps don’t always fall flat—Lushlife possesses the requisite degree of cool slang, and “Still I Hear the Word Progress” proves he can pull off some sharply phrased bars—but too often he’s saying a lot without truly connecting (either through stylish delivery or meaningful content). Thus, we end up somewhere in the middle, left with an album that showcases East Coast rap canon in an intriguing new light, but one that also falls a bit short in the primary area that made those records classic in the first place.
Label: Western Vinyl