Within his liner notes, Chris Lowe gives a shout-out to “everybody who was here in ’88 thru ’94 – the best era in hip-hop.” Back in 1994, Chris Lowe may well have served as a breath of fresh air, a voice set apart from the gangsta rap of the West and the gritty street language that began emanating from the East. Flash forward to 2004 and Lowe now seems more like an inhaler amongst asthma attacks attempting to refuel some of that late-80′s, early-90′s freshness back into the hip-hop scene.
They say you can never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Chris Lowe knowingly completes an impressive rundown of his abilities on his debut album Black Life, showcasing a variety of his skills both lyrically and on the production side (Lowe handles all but one track’s production). Opening tracks “Uncut Raw” (featuring Large Professor) and “Let’s Go” (featuring Fort Knox) both join Lowe with worthy lyrical partners as he throws out two fast-paced bangers that catch attention straight off the bat but do not yet exercise Lowe’s full potential as an artist.
The true gem of the album, “Funny Fake Snakes,” features Lowe bashing fellow hip-hop counterparts that are not quite taking the game seriously as he bombasts, “I think we need to stick to being black, so the next generation’ll step up right on track, We gon’ need ‘em, so tell the truth don’t cheat ‘em, If shorty is hungry for that knowledge, man, then feed ‘em, See I’m into that, I threw that in there thought I’d mention that, ‘Cause black knowledge is the scratch where we itchin’ at.” Not quite the normal rapper-to-rapper dialogue mixed in with a confidence from Lowe so precise that the song comes off as both catchy but knowledgeable at the same time. Other tracks, such as “Get It Goin’ On” and “Hurt It,” sound like tracks lifted almost directly from the 90′s with the former garnering an Illmatic-type “throwback” (as is fashionable in 2004) and the latter including Lowe rapping “Here goes the drummer with the bass player, Track over track, Layer on top of layer, ‘Hey, you got soul, kid,’ Let me hear the snare go flat,” all while Lowe snake charms the beat to follow his commands. The DJ cut “Chris Cosby VS. Cash Money” (featuring DJ Cash Money) would probably inhibit the process of other albums, but instead adds a unique and flavorful wisp of freshness that ignites “Black Life.” Even “Rewind the Time” (featuring Carl Thomas), which employs a piano-laced beat that initially sounds like ill-equipped elevator music, eventually pans out as Lowe delivers slow, salty lines with a hint of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” breath control (not to mention an unsurprisingly soulful guest appearance from Thomas).
Do not be afraid, Chris Lowe is neither a totally braggadocios self-absorbed rapper, nor is he a strictly self-conscience emcee or a novelty act. Lowe demonstrates a noteworthy handle of both the emceeing and the production (think J-Zone without the madness), as he both creates funky and memorable beats employed by sampling that he more than adequately can then fill with lyrics. “Black Life” is no classic, but rather a sampler that, if any indication of what Chris Lowe is capable of, may be remembered as his first impression on a classic career.
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