It’s been a long time since Tek and Steele, better known as Smif-N-Wessun, crafted a hip hop classic with their debut album, Dah Shinin’. Twelve years to be exact, which is the equivalent of a lifetime or two in the rap game.
The passage of all that time is evident on their fourth and latest effort, simply titled The Album. These aren’t the same grimy young lyricists who grabbed our attention back in the day, but a wiser, more thoughtful duo whose rhymes reflect the growth that occurs naturally when you ply your trade for more than a decade.
That much becomes clear in just a few songs. Rapping over beats a little more laid back than we’ve heard them on in the past, Tek and Steele spin tales of persistence on “See The Light” and “K.I.M. 2000.” They detail all the ways life can go wrong on “Trouble,” and even get a little topical in the middle of The Album with joints like “Who Gonna Save Us” and “Still Fighting.”
Lest you think the more aggressive Smif-N-Wessun are completely gone, they rip it over driving drums and piano loops on “Stomp Thru,” which also features guest vocals from Joell Ortiz and a high energy chorus from fellow Boot Camp Clik member Rock. They do the same on the Tommy Tee-produced “Yeah” and profess their unapologetic love for hustling dice games on “Can’t Stop.”
There’s no doubt both men can still spit, but the music doesn’t always give them a chance to shine their brightest on every song. The production by Ken Ring, Collen & Webb, Rune Rotter and the aforementioned Tommy Tee is an uneven effort, and a couple songs, most notably “P.N.C. 4 Life” and “Gangsta Prayer,” just fall flat. It might not be fair to compare it to Dah Shinin’, when Da Beatminerz were on top of their game and gave the whole disc a coherent feel, but it can’t be helped.
Fittingly, The Album ends the same way it begins. On “Still Here,” Tek and Steele trade off rhymes explaining what they’ve been through: “We’ve seen it all, rise and fall, fought wars and battles/Through the storm we endured, so the growth was gradual/Longevity is valuable, this flow is infallible/This is more than just an album, something more like a parable…”
The lesson, of course, is just to keep doing it. Smif-N-Wessun once brought us that rarest of gems, a rap record with absolutely no filler. While The Album doesn’t quite live up to that lofty standard, it’s still better than 90 percent of the other stuff out there today. Still here indeed. – Nick Tylwalk
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