When Hip Hop lost James Yancy, a legendary producer was removed abruptly before he could ever be acclaimed as he deserved for his brilliant work. When Detroit lost Dilla, it lost more than just a producer. The city lost a brother and friend. Phat Kat is one of those who was blessed with much more than a Dilla beat, he was blessed with his presence and his friendship. So it’s only righteous that when the vaults opened that of 1st Down (the former Dilla/Phat Kat group) would carry on his legacy and be furnished with 5 beats for his latest offering, Carte Blache.
Phat Kat spits rather ferocious and usually goes at one speed - 100 mph. Everything he spits is rather aggressive. Even if it’s a smooth track, the shit feels threatening. Maybe it’s his voice, maybe it’s his delivery, probably a combination of both. But if you want a suave voice like Common, you are in for a long listen with Carte Blache as Ronnie Cash comes hard and all up in your face.
Phat Kat is at his finest when his raspy vocals are wrapped around a Dilla offering. When he and Elzhi trade cautionary punchline riddles on “Cold Steel” it is simply emcee heaven. Phat Kat slips in and out the synth riffs of other Dilla jewels “Don’t Nobody Care About Us” and the heavy rumble of “Nasty Ain’t It”. Although there is one Dilla throwaway track (hey, all the greats have them) on the relatively sleepy “Game Time”.
Guests are rather hit and miss throughout. Former Aftermath vocalist, Truth Hurts, just doesn’t quite fit into the scheme of things on “Vessels”. Her strong voice is more suited for something a little more sultry than this production. T3 gets outshined by Phat Kat and Black Milk on “Danger” (which Black Milk produces brilliantly and continues raising the stakes of production). The aforementioned “Cold Steel” is probably where the chemistry is perfect. Everywhere else things are a bit shaky.
All in all, Carte Blache is a thorough listen. Solid beats, a few missteps, but nothing that forces you to pounce on the skip button. Detroit Hip-Hop has a certain aesthetic attached to it and as long as emcees like Phat Kat keep rocking like they do, we won’t see that vibe disappear for a long time.
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