Stop or You'll Go Blind
Wince at the Sun
[Red Bench Records, Dec. 2003]
Long before rhyming 'Escalade' with 'getting paid' scored an emcee a record contract, there was this thing called skill that people in hip hop used to earn their keep. An emcee had to present more than just a profitable image; he or she had to tell a story that used actual words instead of brand names. There were songs about getting a job, house-parties, politicians, asking girls out, and who was the baddest cat in the 'hood on a microphone, and all one needed to make a name for oneself was some time with a pen and a pad and a DJ-friend with a good beat.
Following in this rich tradition, the Himalayan Project have plied their craft with witty, playful lyrics and distilled, thoughtful production. Though the emcees now call Philadelphia their home, they earned their stripes in the Bay area, first getting together in high school in 1994. Collaborating on a demo in 1998, the pair solidified their sound and put their dream into motion. 2001 found the Himalayan Project's first full-length debut, "The Middle Passage," released to a mountain of praise from underground heads. Since then, many have been lying in wait for the next installment, "Wince at the Sun," with good reason; these cats are bad, and that is 'bad' as in very good.
Intelligent and socially aware, this disc finds the Himalayan Project speaking softly and brandishing the proverbial big stick. The portrait of rising from a "cultural slum where mediocrity is an art form for some" is lyrically sculpted in the first track, the B-side "Reaction." On the single, "Rebel Music," their mission to raise awareness through music is realized, speaking on the increase of the socioeconomic educational gap, terrorism and the misinterpretation of Islam, and overcoming apathy to affect social change. Reflecting on the destitute living conditions of third world countries, "Postcards from Paradise" constructs a somber depiction of life on the continent of Asia, from "babies layin' in the same puddle, riddled with mosquitoes the size of bald eagles" to a "cityside swept with murder, religious fervor."
Keeping it all tightly bound are beats produced by The Soulful MPs, a duo who go by Koozy Kooz and Zeeby Zeeb, respectively. Whatever subject Chee or Rainman decide to wax poetically on, The Soulful MPs do an outstanding job of making music that frames the lyrics just right and appeals to the proper emotions. Lucid and clean, their touch gives this disc a more authentic hip hop vibe absent from many recordings by more prominent artists. Together on this album, it seems that these four men could do no wrong.
Mired too long in albums that spew rampant consumerism from emcees that lean on profanity and malapropisms of English, hip-hoppers will find this album to be a pleasant surprise full up with freshness. Though a bit dense at times, this disc offers profound social-commentary to those whose ears are open for it and solid rhythms guaranteed to get heads nodding. A ray of light for activist-musicians, I hope that these guys never stop, lest we all go blind.
For information on tour dates, new releases and more, visit HimalayanProject.com.
December 12, 2003