I've always thought a great MC should give you those chills. You know
the ones. Like the first time you heard Chuck D eloquently hollering
on "Miuzi Weighs a Ton." Or when "Scenario" first hit the radio and a
kid from Long Island named Busta Rhymes was roaring like a dungeon
Sadly, Boston hip-hop hero Akrobatik does not give me those chills.
Sure, he's an articulate, thoughtful, challenging, funny rapper. He's
got all the parts, but they don't add up to the whole. He lacks that
spine-tingling ability that separaties a good rapper from a great
one. On his debut LP, Balance, Ak comes correct often, but
despite above-average production and an arsenal of metaphors, on
Balance he just doesn't hit it over the fence.
Maybe his pedigree is the problem. The brewing Boston hip-hop scene
has been compared to mid-'80s NYC. It's full of grimy street truth
and conscious messages. Fellow Bostonians, namely Ak's friend Mr. Lif
(who shows up on "Wreck Dem") and Raw Produce, have been producing
noteworthy music for a decade. Last year's debut from Lif, I
Phantom, was a minor masterpiece. It was a sprawling narrative of
struggle. Akrobatik's first release, last September's "The EP," was
reminiscent of his heroes KRS-One and Chuck D's best work. Maybe the
bar was set too high by his forebears.
The album's first cut, the title track, offers some meaningful
rhymes: "There's no balance in rap/ You either a nerd or a thug/ You
either got too many big words or you bust too many slugs." He's
right. There is no balance in hip-hop. He offers sharp musings on
hypocrisy ("Hypocrite"), violence ("Cooler Heads") and just plain
braggadocious MCs ("Feedback").
There's no filler on "Balance." Each track either tells a story,
sends a message or both. The album's first single, in particular,
"Remind My Soul," is a lush, guitar-accentuated piece of
soul-searching. He rhymes to his people, black people, to love
yourself and remember your heritage. It's hard to miss the yearning
in Ak's voice in the chorus. "Remind my soul/ Of the time we were
great/ Before the self-hate/ The time we were great/ Wait, but we
still great." Less effective are the Martin Luther King vocal bits
interpolated after the chorus. But the song is so clearly heartfelt,
it's easy to ignore its weaknesses.
The soundscapes are sample-laden and smooth. Young producers DJ Fakts
One, Edan and Ak himself team up with old pros da Beatminerz and
Diamond to form a cohesive sound. Akrobatik's voice is always front
and center, but the beats are far from minimal. It's never too
jangly, nor is it ever too airy. Edan's stuttering horns on "Hand
That Rocks the Cradle" are exceptionally dope.
But it all goes back to the Master of Ceremonies, and for all his wit
and wonder, Ak just doesn't knock you on your ass, the way most of
his heroes do. I won't hold it against him. It's nearly impossible to
make a hip-hop record without filler no skits, no wack joints
about weed and tire rims, no cryfests to his mother. Just true school
music. Just doing that is something to cheer about. But it just isn't
the punch in the chest I hoped it would be.