“Words are corny.” I’m a firm believer that the preceding sentence represents what will be a commonly held idea shared on whatever puts Twitter out to pasture in the next year or so. I imagine that it will be expressed with a keyboard emoji, the letter “R” and an emoji of a tiny ear of corn.
Actually, I’m not sure if I really believe that. I don’t know if my fears are just the last dying whimper of a dinosaur looking up at a giant piece of space detritus casting a shadow over the Hip-Hop I once knew, or if I’m really onto something. Vocal distortion of both the digitally manipulated and natural variety, stronger emphasis on ad-libs, and all manners of tweaks to flow and cadence are welcome forms of innovation, but I’m practically starving for some good old-fashioned, straight-forward lyricism.
Of course, man cannot live by rhymes alone. Brooklyn emcees Skyzoo & Torae have always been able to spit, but can the Barrel Brothers duo rap their collective asses off and make a strong, cohesive album?
1. Dynamic Duo
Skyzoo and Torae have the easy chemistry that comes with having collaborated since 2007. The pair maneuver around tracks like stock car teammates using each other’s slipstreams. On “4 Bar Friday” they literally finish each other’s sentences, and turn The Stuyvesants’ buoyant production into their own personal Autobahn. Similar teamwork is displayed on “The Hand Off,” a compact right hook of a track that ends too soon.
2. Words, As A Matter Of Fact Are Not Corny.
Both emcees have well-earned reputations as talented wordsmiths, and they display the full repertoire on Barrel Brothers. From Torae’s extended metaphors on “Make You A Believer” to Skyzoo’s airtight claims to the throne on “Memorabilia,” both emcees keep the pressure on each other, with neither yielding any ground or faltering. This is truly a team effort, and one of the few collaborations between two rappers where one doesn’t establish himself as the clear standout. Even when guests like Blu (“Rediscover”), Guilty Simpson, and Sean Price (both on “All In Together”) join them, Sky and Torae more than hold their own.
3. The Beats Are Top-Notch.
As strong as the lyricism is throughout the album, the production is equally noteworthy. Recognizable names like DJ Premier (“The Aura” with co-producer AntMan Wonder), Oh No (“Talk Of The Town”), and frequent Meek Mill collaborator Jahlil Beats (“Make You A Believer”) all concoct strong contributions, but lesser-known names also shine. The aforementioned AntMan Wonder blends exultant horns, energetic bass, and dynamic drum programming for one of the album’s standouts in “Memorabilia.” Maryland producer Praise also gets loose on the Livin Proof-featuring “Albee Square Mall.”
4. The Formula
This a damn good album. It’s not transcendent. It’s not earth-shattering. It just features consistently good rapping and production. Its only weakness, if you can call it one, is that it doesn’t aspire to much more than that. However, no grand political statements, shocking artistic risks, or controversy are necessary here. These days dope beats and dope rhymes are revolutionary enough.