Daddy Kev & Awol One
he California underground has long been a breeding ground for forward-thinking hip-hop. Along with the late Celestial Records, Meanstreet Records has been home to many of the more prominent underground artists, such influential heads as Aceyalone, Grouch, and Mystik Journeymen. I picked up Souldoubt, a recent Meanstreet collaboration from Daddy Kev and AWOL One, on a whim, due to the strength of previous Daddy Kev production work that had spent some quality time bombing my headphones. It didn’t hurt that I knew AWOL One was a member of the legendary Shapeshifters crew, either.
Souldoubt surprised me seconds into the first song. The beats on the first track, “Ignorance,” were quite recognizably Daddy Kev, with a deep thudding bass line and a mechanical droning sound that had my head nodding immediately, but the part that really shook me was the vocals. What was this talking I was hearing? Some kind of an intro? Turns out it’s just the way AWOL One rocks the mic- he simply talks, in mostly two line couplets, sounding completely different from the wordy tongue-twisting and abstract allusions I’d become so used to from the typical Cali “undie” mc’s. The chorus to “Ignorance,” spoken in complete monotone deadpan, consists of “I wish I was a baby / with a fresh mind / and a brand new brain / I wanna rewind / I’m a borderline genius or a madman / I’m deaf dumb and blind / but I do what I can.” Huh.
I gotta admit, I wasn’t exactly loving it after the first listen, and I found myself wondering if AWOL One really belonged on the microphone. I listened into the second song to see what would happen, and once again the beat started things off nicely, this time with an old-skool sounding kick drum and a nicely looped flute. AWOL One, although speeding up his flow a little bit, sounds much like he does on the first track- not really rhyming except the last words on the end of the occasional sentence, not really attempting anything complex verbally, not really giving any kind of a coherent narrative, just talking about whatever seemed to be crossing his mind at the time. It was, at the time, less than captivating. I listened to the rest of the album, wished it was instrumental, and put it away, not to be touched for almost three months.
And then, one gloomy day, I found myself about to walk out the door to take a six hour roadtrip without any music other than the same stuff I’d been listening to on a daily basis. I usually make a point to buy a new cd or two before I hit the road, but didn’t have time or funds to go get anything, and so Plan B was to grab some stuff I already had but never really listened to. Souldoubt certainly fit this profile, and I threw it into my car and hit the road. Four hours later, immediately after listening to the dense and abstract Lucy Ford EP’s from fellow Cali hip-hoppers Atmosphere, I decided to give Souldoubt a second chance at life in my stereo. Maybe it helped that I played it after the highly conceptual Atmosphere album, or maybe I was just in a different overall state of mind, but this time around Souldoubt had my attention long after the AWOL One vocals had appeared. I paid more attention to what AWOL One was saying and less to how he sounded, and in doing so, came to appreciate the album for what it was: an straightforward and intelligent hip-hop album without any hyper-intellectual facades.
Souldoubt keeps it simple all around. The beats never approach the multi-layered density becoming increasingly prevalent in underground hip-hop, but they sound absolutely perfect when combined with the unconventional vocals. AWOL One lays it all out in front of you, in his easy-to-understand speaking/chanting/rapping lyrics and husky voice. The content of his vocals match his delivery, as he insightfully addresses concepts like human nature, what he wants and doesn’t want, and science and religion. He has a penchant for being blunt, wondering aloud “...if we were the chosen ones / then why do humans have to die?” on “Worship” and candidly admitting “I get drunk / and make beautiful things fight each other / I get drunk / and make pretty things get ugly” on “Revolution.” All of which is not to say that he is beyond the use of the occasional metaphor or symbolic phrase, but even those are easy to understand when he does use them, and it makes his message more effective than a rambling stream-of-consciousness type delivery you’re likely to hear from some of his peers. AWOL One has a lot to say and he wants to be sure you understand it, and more importantly, relate to it- which is something of a refreshing change of pace for hip-hop that delves into deeper content than “it’s getting hot in here / so take off all your clothes.”
If you’re looking for gritty chaotic beats and verbal gymnastics, Souldoubt is probably not the best thing to throw into your stereo. If you’re looking for a simple and unique piece of hip-hop that doesn’t sacrifice quality of content, check it out. Or, maybe it would be better to say that you should listen to it if you relate to any of these sentiments: “I don’t want the television to make up my mind / and I don’t want you / to tell me what to do / and I don’t want kids getting pregnant at fifteen / and I don’t want you to keep stealing my shit...I don’t want a radio without fresh batteries / and all the other radios they try to battle me / but I throw on my boomers, and then I’m fine / no other radio gets louder than mine!” Word.
Reviewed by: Tony van Groningen
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01