25 June, 2014@5:50 am
Much has been made about the current rap scene in New York City. The birthplace of Hip-Hop has been criticized in recent years for losing its way, but that’s not quite the reality. Hip-Hop has evolved and progressed, and those that still crave it’s essence in the city that birthed it should look no further than Skyzoo and Torae. The two MC’s have been waving that Yankee flag proudly their entire careers, and continue to do so with the release of their first joint album, Barrel Brothers.
From the very beginning you get a sense that this album is going have a nostalgic feel to it. The album opens with an excerpt from the movie New Jack City in the “Intro”, placing an emphasis on the question “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” The opening intro is followed up with “Talk Of The Town” and doesn’t disappoint. The two underground MC’s let it be known that their providing their brand of lyrical brash talk that’s so distinctively identifiable with where they’re from. This is made even clearer with the lead single “Blue Yankee Fitted”, a modern day ode to the city that made them.
Having worked together on separate tracks in the past, the two artists are certainly no strangers to each other. The complimenting of their flows is on “4 Bar Friday” is a prime example of the two reaching their lyrical peaks. Their chemistry meshed from the start of the album, but it truly shined on tracks where guests join them. “All In Together” is a posse cut featuring Sean Price and Guilty Simpson, and even a scene stealing verse from Price didn’t take away from the contributions of Skyzoo and his partner in rhyme. The bond between these two is brought to life perfectly over the track “Rediscover”. As the gem of this album, Torae and Skyzoo combine witty wordplay with nonchalant flows over a standout soundscape.
If there was ever a question if the production of the album would measure up to the rhymes, it was answered almost immediately. Skyzoo and Torae find themselves spitting lyrical poetry over a selection of beats that perfectly compliment their styles. Despite using an assortment of producers, the cohesiveness of the sound allows everything to blend together to varied results. Illmind provides an assortment of hard knocking soundscapes with “Tunnel Vision”, “Blue Yankee Fitted”, and “Triangle Offense”. The smooth and soulful soundscape of “Rediscover” was produced by Marc Nfinit, and was perfectly placed on the album with a guest verse from Blu that is worth more than a few spins. There was clearly a vision for how the Barrel Brothers wanted this project to sound, and contributions from Oh No (“Talk Of The Town”), Black Milk (“All In Together”), and Antman Wonder (“Memoribilia”) all fit the format.
If there was one fault with the album that stood out, it’s surely the redundancy of the songs. Despite providing a lyrical exercise that is surely missed in Hip-Hop releases these days, the similar sounds of the song tend to drag out the session. An album that focuses on the art of rapping well is always appreciated, but it’s hard to ignore the lack of concepts. “Make You a Believer” and “Albee Square Mall” serve their purpose, but could have easily been left on the cutting floor all the same. Given the track record of the two artists involved, they have proven that they are more than capable of applying creative twists to a record; this project just falls short of that.
Those that questioned whether New York was still able to produce high quality results from its natives need to look no further than this album. Barrel Brothers is everything that fans of the nostalgic days will appreciate, and what newer generations could just as easily learn from. Torae and Skyzoo didn’t give us a modern day masterpiece, but what they did create was a body of work that stands the test of playability with the best of their peers. If nothing else, consider this a job well done.
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