Every now and then a quality album will fall between the cracks, going largely unnoticed. This usually occurs due to a lack of marketing and promotion, but not for Grayskull. They have an obstacle on their hands that is likely only to be cured by word of mouth: being a new group comprised of members who are coming from a significantly unknown crew. But regardless of how unfamiliar MC/beatmaker Onry Ozzborn and MC JFK of Seattle’s Oldominion may be, they are joining forces with bass player Rob Castro to properly reintroduce themselves as Grayskull. And their unwavering debut, Deadlivers, is their sonic launching pad via Rhymesayers Entertainment.
With heavy-hitting production tinged with a hint of spookiness (a la early Swollen Members) and lyrical deliveries as upfront as the MCs of Non-Phixion, this album is satisfying from start to finish. But where it really differs from your average indie hip-hop outing is in its underlying mystic quality, which in part spawns from Grayskull’s Latino heritage. Thus, if you don’t mind the occasional rhyme about spirits and fighting evil, you’ll be treated to some truly top-notch production (from Mr. Hill, Fakts One, Onry Ozzborn and others) and well-delivered raps (from Onry and JFK).
This album is certainly guest-heavy and the featured MCs Canibus, Abstract Rude, Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock all drop impressive verses. But Grayskull’s very own Onry and JFK more than hold their own without them. When they go for dolo, their songs tend to be slightly more thematic. On the bouncy “Once Upon A Time,” some wild xylophone and tuba loops set the stage for Onry and JFK to kick into story telling mode; then on “Vixen” they get loose over a Mexican-flavored production speaking on repelling groupiesâ€”especially the emotionally draining ones. Another standout, the album’s lead-single “Prom Quiz,” is an absorbing piece of social commentary. Here, the stories of troubled teenagers devoid of self-esteem are superbly told over a head nod inducing production by Mr. Hill.
The powerfully delivered variety of subject matter and tight beats outright make Deadlivers an all around high-quality release. Sure, Grayskull’s overall steez may be a bit too eerie for some. But anyone who digs the ghoulish quality of the Swollen Members’ early albums and who is open to the enigma of Latino mysticism will be more than satisfied. With the independent scene becoming more crowded by the day, don’t let this one become another album to get lost amid all the hype of unworthy releases.
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