Hailing from Portland, Ore., the Lifesavas (AKA Vursatyl and Jumbo the Garbageman) have been bringing the heat ever since they hit the road with Blackalicious last year. During this stint, the two-man team steadily rocked crowds in all corners, prompting Bay Area hip-hop label Quannum to offer them a spot in the ranks. After a string of impressive 12s, the Lifesavas now return with their stellar debut album, Spirit in Stone.
Swarming with tight beats, soulful grooves and visceral poetics, Spirit in Stone is a solid first full-length outing for the Lifesavas crew. Drawing stylistic influences from '70s funk and soul as well as their hip-hop roots, the Lifesavas mesh early hip-hop aesthetics with an experimental sensibility that keeps things interesting throughout.
With Vursatyl on the mic and Jumbo holding down the production duties, the Lifesavas bring a raw, infectious vigor that flickers only a few times over the album's 16 tracks. Opening up with the sultry "Soldierfied," the Lifesavas crew waste no time in staking their claim, delivering a serious dose of souled-out funk. The fire continues with the gritty "It's Over," in which Vursatyl kicks a lethal lyrical flow over a tight fusion of horn stabs, vocal punches and pinpoint scratches.
Conjuring up memories of the De La Soul classic "Ego Trippin'," Vursatyl speaks out, on "HelloHiHey," about the growing need to check MC egotism. Driven by a searing Spanish guitar loop, "HelloHiHey" is a self-evaluating, true-to-life cue to which every serious MC should lend an ear. ("Though we're good friends, it never ends/ Your self-destructive, massive ego/ I never hold a grudge, cause love is the way/ HelloHiHey") On the equally conceptual "Skeletons," Jumbo puts together an abstract mishmash of chiming harpsichord, liquid beats and Smurf-like choruses. Though sounding outright ridiculous at first, "Skeletons" is, in fact, a finely tuned endeavor that gets better with each subsequent listen.
Other highlights include the soul-inflected "Selector," in which Vursatyl and J-Live swap striking verses over a melodic horn sequence, and the aptly titled "Head Exercise," in which Jumbo slices and dices vocal tracks over crackling snares. The album's real high point, however, is "Emerge," which brings together the mighty skills of the Lifesavas with those of seasoned members of the Quannum crew: Latyrx, Omega, Blackalicious and even DJ Shadow. Laced with pinpoint scratches, verbal acrobatics and a breakneck backbeat, "Emerge" is a tightly orchestrated, chopped-up, blistering banger that never lets up.
Chock-full of conscious rhymes and unadulterated funk, the Lifesavas' debut album carries the Quannum trademark in style.