With 'Children of A Lesser God,' The Wisemen Deliver Classic Street Rap; But Don’t Call It a Throwback, the Essence of The Wisemen Has Been Here for Years
|By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)|
BeatTips Rating: 5/5
BeatTips Rating Breakdown
To be certain, The Wisemen's album, Children of a Lesser God, is quintessential, unmitigated street rap of the highest quality. I began here because it's necessary to point out. Why? Because at the moment, hip hop/rap music is overly “represented” (I use the term lightly) by three main unfortunate trends: (1) status quo safety efforts, you know, where the top acts do just enough to oil the mainstream machine; (2) lifeless beats and parochial rhymes [where sampling is surface-level at best, and where synth-based creations are either extra emo or just plain too “synthy”]; and (3) publicity-stunt rappers who say or do seemingly anything for attention.
Taken together, these three trends paint a disturbing picture of today’s hip hop/rap music. But this picture is, by any knowledgeable or sensible account, grossly incomplete. Truth is, there’s a lot of good, well-intentioned hip hop/rap music available today. Yet most of it is simply drowned out by waves of mediocrity. Thus in an environment such as this, we need albums like The Wisemen’s Children of A Lesser God to shatter through the Plexiglass.
When you think about it, it’s always been the quintessential street rap album (think Wu-Tang or Nas’s first LP efforts, for instance) that has had the best chance to cut through all the clown noise with something simultaneously threatening, enjoyable, and of course, meaningful. (Maybe that’s one of the reasons this album failed to get proper press coverage when in dropped back in October, 2010; ironically, on the exact same day as The Left’s celebrated Gas Mask. But I digress.)
That being said, street rap albums are a curious thing. They're difficult to pull off, mostly because of the balancing act of authenticity, creativity, and entertainment appeal. And they don’t always hit the mark established by similar albums from hip hop/rap hey-day eras. But The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God convincingly strikes the target.
Now, I’d be remiss if I did not mention that the Wisemen artfully use the Wu-Tang architecture as a guide. Here, let’s remember The Wu-Tang Clan: The Wu-Tang Clan were (and still are) in their own league; they were aggressively insular and self-contained; their slang, flows, and metaphors were the codes of their own world—outsiders be damned; they broke from conventional music forms; they rhymed to impress, to challenge, to compete with each other.
Many of these characteristics and qualities come to mind when you listen to The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God. And for good reason, as the clear Wu-Tang influence is an actual legitimate connection—The Wisemen front man, Bronze Nazarath is a recognized Wu-affiliate (his link to and work with The RZA has been documented). That being said, however, The Wisemen are not mere emulators of the Wu-Tang style, sound, and mystique; rather, they are the much needed extension of it. An extension, I should add, that is not homage alone, but inspiration, and more importantly, obligation. Indeed, The Wisemen seem to have a deep sense of obligation (duty) to maintain this extension (connection) and to keep alive the influence of one of the most powerful forces in hip hop/rap music history. Fortunately for us, they do a great job in this regard. (I especially liked Children of a Lesser God's inclusion of skits, an element unique to hip hop/rap—not always used or performed effectively—that Wu-Tang perfected.)
But homage and duty to Wu-Tang aside, The Wisemen are keenly devoted to representing themselves and their brand of self-contained community. Indeed, they are not given over to erasing the memory banks of their own background, just for the pursuit of an often romanticized hip hop/rap era (i.e. “the ‘90s”). Instead, The Wisemen understand that while past eras of hip hop/rap music may fade, the essence of these eras remain and never dissolve. As such, the characteristics and nuance of these eras can be studied and used by current music makers for the purpose of creating something that doesn’t simply attempt to mimic, but aims to be just as creative and mutually engaging. Where most of “the ‘90s” revival outfits miss this crucial understanding, The Wisemen absorb and internalize it, rendering a long player (album) that’s just as much reminiscent as it is authentically personal.
In fact, Children of a Lesser God demonstrates how The Wisemen reconcile Detroit’s unique sensibilities with other influential hip hop/rap cities. And I say this to make one thing clear: The Wisemen are NOT hip hop/rap carpetbaggers (like others I’ve noticed), avoiding the sensibility of their home town. On the contrary, The Wisemen are skilled music makers who have connected the rich soul music roots (and nuance) of Detroit to their hip hop/rap influences (some obvious, others not so much). Ultimately, this makes for a style and sound that authentically represents them (their specific interpretations of proven hip hop/rap styles and sounds) and their famed city.
BeatTips Rating Breakdown
“Thirsty Fish” ft. Raekwon
(Bronze, Salute, and Raekwon KILL this joint. One of the toughest beats I've ever heard! And Rae is in prime form; you can tell he was diggin' this beat—produced by Kelaar 7)
“Victoriuos Hoods” ft. Victorious, Planet Asia
“Makes Me Want a Shot”
The Illness 2
ft. Illah Days (Verse 1&2), Phillie
“Makes Me Want a Shot”
ft. Salute Da Kidd, Bronze Nazareth, Kevlaar 7
“Thirsty Fish” (10)
“Children of a Lesser God” (10)
“Makes Me Want a Shot” (10)
“Panic at Vicious Park” (9)
“Victorious Hoods” (10)
“Faith Doctrine ft. Beace”
“Get U Shot”
“I Gotta Know”
ft. Salute Da Kid, Phillie, Bronze Nazareth, Illah Dayz
Solid Album Cuts
“The Illness 2”
“Do It Again”
“Corn Liquor Thoughts”
Gripes and Weak Moments
The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God is enjoyable. Quite a feat when you consider that most street rap albums are long on the “shock and awe” and short on the enjoy factor. I found that I was able to really chill with this album, you know, dig in to it. This album holds no skip through joints. Beats are not repetitive; each song lays down its own claim. And the song order; the lyrical quality (every rapper in the crew is distinguishable and more than capable); and the timelessness of the dope beats all combine to stop you from rush consumption. I’m also compelled to point out that I found Children of a Lesser God as—if not more—enjoyable than many of my favorite hip hop/rap albums (from the ‘90s til now).
On Children of a Lesser God, there’s no deliberate (or perhaps contrived) social commentary that you might expect to find from the likes of a so-called “conscious rapper.” Yet the social commentary comes through clear in an unflinching, “as told to you” manner. Of course there’s stories of crime, weed and liquor use, and sex-capades. But none of the subject matter on Children of a Lesser God is forced or meant as sensationalism. Instead, the material comes off naturally, with much nuance to take in and subtle lessons to be learned. I appreciate when lyrics inform, enlighten, and challenge without the stench of falsity.
The best parts of The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God, notably the songs “Thirsty Fish,” “Victoriuos Hoods,” and “Makes Me Want a Shot” exude a sound, polish, and feel that just isn’t equaled right now. This is not to say that there is no one else offering soul samples and hard raps. Of course there are. But many other acts who are using this formula (soul samples and hard raps) are doing little to draft their own unique blueprints from this foundational formula; nor are they doing a fairly good job at representing the pedigree for which they aim to emulate, match, or surpass. Does this mean that The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan? No. But it does mean this: In their aim and effort to stay true to their pedigree and influences, they were, in turn, able to create something authentically theirs—something that will now stand for others to attempt to emulate, match, or surpass. That's the continuum promise of a dope pedigree.
Thus, my final overall evaluation of Children of a Lesser God? it’s a 5-star classic. Aside from its cache of razor sharp, crew-backed rhymes and hard—and often eloquent—beats, what truly makes an album like The Wisemen’s Children of A Lesser God a classic is not only it’s ability to take you back, but its enduring power to keep you focused here, in the now, while also giving you a glimpse of the promise of hip hop/rap’s tomorrow.