Skyzoo & !llmind - Live From the Tape Deck

Posted October 11, 2010

Let me take you back to a time when a young Nathan S. was rocking BK Knights and saving every...

Live From the Tape Deck Album Review

Let me take you back to a time when a young Nathan S. was rocking BK Knights and saving every dollar to buy new tapes. I’m sorry, what? What were those? Well BK Knights were these kicks that…no, the other thing? You mean tapes? What were tapes? Well, tapes were this way, no, the only, way to listen to recorded music. You’d have to flip them over halfway through, and sometimes they’d break and you’d have to re-spool them with a pencil. Oh, and since you paid for them, and had to fix them by hand, you listened to them over, and over and over again, memorizing every syllable and every inflection of every word, of every line, of every verse, until, like a wounded soldier, the tape gave out. It was a simpler, and in some ways better, time. (MC Hammer was also really popular, so it wasn’t all good.)

Make no mistake, Skyzoo and !llmind aren’t trying to take it back to the days when the Walkman ruled. In fact, in many ways their new collaborative album Live From the Tape Deck is an advancement into hip-hop’s future. No, instead what the chronically underrated New York City emcee (slap of shame to those still sleeping on The Salvation) and the chronically innovative New Jersey producer are bringing back is that feeling of investment in a work of music that the cassette tape inspired, and without question they succeed. The latest addition to hip-hop’s suddenly resurgent one producer-one emcee legacy, Live From the Tape Deck will make you want to go get 20 D batteries, grab your boombox and hit the streets. Come on, let me tell you the tale of right hand, left hand.

It’s far too simple to break this review down into emcee and producers paragraphs, but I’m doing it anyway, starting with the human voice behind Tape Deck, Skyzoo. In my review of his debut album, The Salvation, I wrote that he had the potential to become one of the game’s best, and he’s moved decidedly closer to fulfilling that mic-laden promise on Tape Deck. Not many emcees could pull off Frisbee’s lyrical conceit (beginning each line with the last word of the last), but there are even fewer who could do it so seamlessly you barely notice. We’re far from done. While Sky and Torae share thick slow flows that drag a bit when placed back to back, I don’t think anyone wants a piece of the Barrel Brothers, and Sky shows he can get smooth on #Allaboutthat, a record that despite its misleadingly shallow title is a head-nodding ode to love, and a love for music. Still, his best work as a true emcee comes on Krylon, which starts as a graffiti anthem and slowly fades to reveal deep-seeded metaphors for physical, economic and sexual violence. Pay attention aspiring emcees, this is how it’s done.

If you’re brave enough to include an exclamation point in your name you better come with it (there’s a reason he’s not J!bbs), and thankfully !llmind more than lives up to the grammatical excitement of his name by crafting Tape Deck into both a glance back at hip-hop’s past, and a foundation for the future. By starting with boom-bap percussion and layering synths and then later piano and guitar and violin lines, !ll makes the opening track Digital Analog his sonic manifesto. It’s a balance he carefully strikes again on the album’s most easily accessible joint Speakers on Blast, featuring a 808-soaked and minimalistic beat that’s he’s content to let ride, and on the oddly haunting but still knocking Kitchen Table. In his DJBooth interview !ll said he wanted to make honesty, passion and quality the centerpiece of the album, and thanks in large part to his production skills my speakers have been bleeding those qualities for the last week.

Oh, and extra points for allowing the intros and outros of each track to smoothly transition into each other. Good to see someone still thinks an album should be a cohesive whole, not a loose collection of singles.

Unless you’ve got a DeLorean and a Mr. Fusion laying around we can’t really go back to the days of the tape deck, nor would we want to. Ultimately I believe hip-hop’s stronger than ever in the digital age, but in the rush to hear more music, faster, we’ve lost something crucial; the pure joy of holding an album in your hands, pressing play for the first time and becoming completely immersed in the music. Live From the Tape Deck won’t singlehandedly restore that joy to the game, but it’ll brings us decidely closer, and for that hip-hop lovers owe Skyzoo and !llmind some props.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted October 11, 2010
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