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by Ming Dang
31 January, 2003@12:00 am
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If you didn’t pick up Pep Love’s debut LP Ascension, you missed out on one of 2001′s best albums. Unabashedly honest, Pep held nothing back, regardless of whether he was talking about his hometown, his feelings, or his people; everything he said came off genuine. With Ascension Side C, a collection of tracks recorded during the studio sessions for the original Ascension, that sincerity is incredulously even less restrained, allowing the innermost thoughts of the Oakland Hieroglyphics to again be cut loose without a hint of self-consciousness.

What makes Pep Love seem so frank on the mic is his artfully effortless flow – He raps as if he’s having a conversation with a close friend; the only difference being that everything he says just happens to rhyme and fall into perfect rhythm. Ascension’s main flaw was in beats that didn’t fully complement this smooth style, making it sound almost repetitive at times. Fortunately, the production on Side C boasts a bit more experimentation and soul than the first album while still obviously maintaining a similar vibe. Standing out especially are “Warrior Poets” and “The Gaspers”, both produced by Mako (Of Oldominion) and both sounding like they’ve been inspired by some late night horror flick. The former uses an eerie string and piano arrangement to get across its spookiness; the latter features a brooding beat accentuated by ghostly howling. On a completely different note are Casual’s beat contributions, “Fallen” and “The Birds and the Bees”, which successfully capture the jazzy feel Hiero was known for in ’93 without sounding like retreads.

So if the beats are generally as good or better than those on Ascension, it must be the rhymes that aren’t up to par, right? If that’s the case, all emcees should hope for “throwaway” rhymes as nice as this: “We lose heart for the money and the fame / Modern day Buckwheats / Over butt beats / Never even reach to touch the peaks.” Like the production however, the album’s vocal and lyrical highlights result when Pep branches off from the norm (battle and motivational rhymes) and into different subject matter. In this case, different comes in the form of songs about lucid dreaming and out of body experiences, two topics not usually discussed at all, let alone on a Hip-Hop album. That the themes are presented in such striking detail is remarkable (“You wonder why you even want to fly / and then you might gather the gumption to try / in my field of dreams”). “The Gaspers” (about out of body experiences) is particularly memorable, as it appears to stem from personal experience: “I see myself outside of myself, I want to scream!” Sticking out for its sheer candor is “The Birds and the Bees”, where Pep melds childhood reminiscing with a jam dedicated to the ladies (a la Ghostface Killah’s “Child’s Play”). Check out some “natural” game: “In her summer dress / No bra to cover the breast / Nipples stand erect and I stand corrected.”

Needless to say, if you enjoyed Ascension, you’ll enjoy Side C. At a slim eleven tracks (no skits or interludes either), it’s not only a pleasant supplement to the original, but a fine album on its own that should please both long-time and new fans alike. A few misplaced hooks are of little consequence to the simple message successfully communicated: Even with old material, Pep Love rises to the top.

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