ole has come a long way in a very short time. As a member of the heavily (and often rightfully) hyped Anticon collective, he first earned attention with his 2000 debut Bottle of Humans and last year’s Man’s Best Friend. Both albums were solid examples of lo-fi hip-hop, marked by Sole’s self-assured (but often paradoxically self-deprecating) raps and the scratchy, junkyard aesthetic that characterizes much of Anticon’s music. But though both albums demonstrated remarkable promise, neither one was quite an enjoyable listen on its own merits—the music was often too lo-fi and half-realized, and Sole was still in the process of tweaking and perfecting his delivery.
On Selling Live Water, Sole has made his most impressive jump yet. For one thing, the music on this, his fourth full-length, is a massive improvement on the relatively simple backings on his first two records. The beats—created by Anticon stalwarts Alias, Jel, and Odd Nosdam—are still somewhat lo-fi, but they no longer seem like afterthoughts to Sole’s impassioned rapping.
In fact, the standout tracks on Selling Live Water are the ones where the music takes a much more central role in the proceedings. On the remarkable title track—hopefully a blueprint for what Anticon artists will be doing in the near future—Sole throws out rapid stream-of-consciousness verses over a melodic guitar loop. For the chorus, the music becomes ghostly and evocative as Sole repeats, “we’re selling live water to out-of-towners with cameras/ living like ghosts in this world.” The song slowly builds atop an upbeat piano loop and Sole’s elliptical social commentary; coming towards the end of the album, it’s a perfect summation of hip-hop at its best and a great closure to the disc.
Though nothing else on the record comes close to being that revelatory, there are plenty of other worthwhile moments. “Plutonium” is the rare introspective rap track that actually works without sounding too sappy or overly sincere; the music is a rap-rock hybrid capped by spacey sound effects on the bridge, and Sole’s easily recognizable fast-paced delivery blends surprisingly well with the low-key backing. “The Priziest Horse” is another subtle standout, with an echoing horn sample over tumbling, complex rhythms. Sole’s angry double-tracked raps transition into an almost-sung chorus.
Thankfully, not all of the album’s best moments are its more subdued ones. “Sebago,” with its warped, off-key guitar chords and deep beats, is a pleasure of relentless hardcore rap. And the opener “Da Baddest Poet,” with its ironic declaration that “the white man’s a fucking devil,” is carried along by ramshackle percussion and a bouncy melody. On “Pawn in the Game pt. 1,” Sole’s jittery voice flows over lively beats and a jangly acoustic guitar loop, punctuated by an intense break where kitschy film soundtrack horns provide the unlikely backing for the rapper’s poetic rants.
These songs alone would make Selling Live Water Sole’s strongest outing to date. As a whole the album, though marred by a handful of unremarkable songs like the languid “Pawn in the Game pt. 2,” is a great listen. Fun, diverse, and complex, this record is yet another great addition to the increasingly varied Anticon aesthetic. Encompassing personal introspection, socio-political commentary, naked explorations of relationships, and obtuse poetry, Selling Live Water also represents a massive step forward in Sole’s lyrical evolution.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01