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3 November, 2002@12:00 am

Even more annoying than a credible artist inevitably signing a group of ‘lunatic’ lackeys once they get popular to ‘disturb the peace’ is a good group breaking up to spout off sub-par solo projects. The group in question is The Pharcyde, and the Slim Kid 3 of old has been reborn as Tre Hardson and dropped an album more suited to easy-listening radio than in the decks and walkmans of hip hop heads.

Liberation isn’t quite a fitting title for this project, as the album is trapped within the confines of its own ideals. Trying to blend hip-hop, R&B, soul, jazz, and pseudo-spiritual romanticism might sound like a good idea to some, but it ends up as a slow, convoluted mess. Tre uses the same leisurely, jazzy beat again and again in slightly different forms throughout most of the album, and given the incessantly unpoetic lyrics it makes for an exhausting seventy-minute experience.

Though Tre tries to make himself into a rising phoenix, he ends up sounding, well, burned out. Dropping such Hallmark caliber messages as “Life Is Love” and “No Shame To Be You,” only sounds like it should be meaningful. At several points during the album, his lyrics go from merely mediocre to completely nonsensical. “Four Minutes and Counting”, is an odd six minute odyssey which begins with Tre saying “Remembering all there is is / love and all I am is all that I am.” Even when he’s trying to be deep, he ends up mixing his metaphors, spitting “I was walking through hell’s kitchen / picture malnutrition / starving for attention.” What the fuck? It seems as if he doesn’t know what he’s saying even though he keeps saying the same thing over and over!

Liberation is fortunately spiced with a few credible guest artists (but ask Made Men, guests don’t mean shit). Saul Williams, Charli 2na, and MC Lyte all provide their own relief from Tre’s constant blend of singing and rapping. Saul Williams lends an affectionate poem to the end of “Playing House” but it’s at the very end of the song, as if the listener is purposefully made to sit through Tre’s trite tenderness. Chali 2na steps in on one of the more up-tempo hip-hop style tracks to give some much-needed vocal variety on “Follow I’ll Lead”, where it becomes increasingly obvious who is following who. Chali’s voice is as deep as his lyrics, and the dual contrast makes for Liberation’s most interesting song. MC Lyte comes with consistent, if not quite memorable, lyrics.

Despite being lyrically and conceptually flat, Liberation at its best is pleasantly smooth material. The beats are alright, and Tre’s newly unclenched voice blends in so smoothly, it takes attention away from the lyrics. It’s not as if hip-hop doesn’t need more spiritual or introspective artists. Pharcyde’s work as a group might have been more than a bit absurd, but at least it was original. On that note, it’s also not just that Pharcyde was great, but Tre showed a lot of potential with them. Who can forget the honest documentation on “Otha Fish”, or his contributions to the classic “Passing Me By”? As far from Pharcyde as he can get, Tre’s strained solo effort is repetitive, unoriginal, boring, and worst of all, repetitive. Blah.

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