Ayatollah & Drasar Monumental – Boxcutter Brothers #4
REVIEW BY JACOB EKBERG (SWEDEN)
Ayatollah and Drasar Monumental, two well respected torch bearers of the underground sound are back with another installment of their Boxcutter Brothers series. The main twist for this new volume is that rather than catching and transmitting the sound of the streets and hard knock lifes of the people through instrumentals the two Brothers have chosen to take it upon themeselves to also test their rhyme skills over their respective tracks. There’s no question to me that both Drasar and Ayatollah are sharper behind the boards than up on the mic stand, but it’s equally clear that they both know how to find the pocket of a beat and stay there while hitting solid enough flows. So although the rhymes often works mostly as an additional sonic layer of interest, another instrument if you will, there also are moments that made me say HOLD UP, that shit was ILL!
This is never truer than on Side A’s “Atomic Barz”, the standout track of the entire project for me. One of the main things that have drawn me back to Drasar’s music is his skill in seamlessly blending instrumental bangers from several different analogue sources. This is true for both him and Ayatollah, they truly produce music; these cuts isn’t no raggedy little beats made up on the fly. If you can hook up a good 6 second loop and loop that shit to infinity to send it via e-mail to the next mumble rapper then good for you, but you ain’t no fucking Hip Hop producer. So with that said let me get back to “Atomic Barz”. For the first 10 seconds you have nothing but a rugged instrumental piano in a dark minor key with a low sound effect underneath it. Suddenly you hear a classic school voice introduce the song a long with a few turntable cuts, a howling vocal and one big main layer of drums. With a beat like this Drasar sound majestic as hell, and when the second piano line (the hook so to speak) is introduced after the first verse you’ll be nodding your head hard. And a lot of these vocals are SOLID. Just check shit like “Xenophobia, paranoia, anxiety/ It’s no wonder why many of us die violently/ So I don’t ask questions, but I count my blessings/ ‘Cause they drop automatic weapons, ain’t no half stepping/ And that’s my word!”. Trust me when I say that I rewinded this joint several times, and best of all right after 2:45 when most would loop the beat back for a third verse, Drasar won’t let you have it – time to switch shit up, so he completely breaks the beat down into a completely different joint that follows up on the theme over blasting electric guitars and a breakbeat.
Shit like this is all over the album, it won’t let you get comfortable because these producers take you right out of that comfort zone – while still keeping enough of the classic Golden Era shit to keep heads satisfied. Of course not all songs are on the level of “Atomic Barz” (or later Ayatollah’s “What A Brother Know”), but there is no filler here either. Towards the end of his side, Drasar takes the tempo of the political climate of the US and the world with the surprisingly smooth “Nation of Nazi Symphatizers” (where he flip a well-known soul sample in a new and interesting way) and “Surrounded by War Mongers”. The latter is the one that gets it straight to the point. The beat is hard enough for the subject, massive war drums, insane strings that drop in and out of the beat that could’ve been lifted straight out of a horror movie while Drasar continues some of the themes and slang used on his trilogy with Grimm. This is one of the few tracks on the LP that keeps the sonic elements relatively uniform and unbroken and as such it’s a wise move to only let it run for just under two minutes.
When I started writing this review the idea was to write a shorter one (as I basically don’t write too much Hip Hop reviews these days; there’s not much Hip Hop out there right now that inspires me), but there’s just a lot to touch on here so strap up because we are just going into Ayatollah’s side. Now I’ve been a fan of ‘Tollah since that dude was credited on wax as DJ Kool G and though there’s been a few projects where he failed to grab me his overall body of work speaks for him as one of the most underrated in the game. And I say underrated despite everybody knowing something about this music knowing the name Ayatollah so go figure.
As with previous installments the format of the 12” LP is used to great effect by having each producer bless one side each which given their individual styles makes for a release where the two’s styles compliments each other. I’ve often spoken about the importance of having a strong opener, and Ayatollah’s highlight on “Boxcutter Brothers 4” for me is “What A Brother Know”, where his soul-drenched groove style really shines. The guitar, organ and drums almost sound like a blunted jazz-fusion organ trio just jamming out some crazy ish while Ayatollah takes the vocal lead. And it’s funny, because I’ve never heard Ayatollah rhyme before but his laid back, low voice sounds absolutely gorgeous over this type of production. Like so many producers that rhyme they often sound absolute best over their own beats, and this is the case here. So while I do enjoy his tales of his hustle and come-up in the industry, I tend to appreciate his voice the most as an instrument in itself, making this a kind-of quartet recording.
I have to mention “Strange Things” too, really brilliant track right here. Raekwon’s “Heaven & Hell” is one of my top 5 songs of all time so you can bet that it’s at least a little bit sacred to me. To then hear someone use that same sample in a totally unique way, buried within a lot of elements from other records like strings and vocal samples it’s hard not to “nod your head to this” as the producer say on the hook. “Deep” is just that; another really soulful, nostalgic track with Ayatollah rhyming about his family and upbringing, but to include about one minute of a sampled no-music interlude is a mistake in my opinion. The message might be important but when it’s already been used on other people’s projects it just feels like it’s taking up space for no good reason and stopping the as-of-so-far incredible flow of non-stop music. Maybe he felt that a little breather was in order, but I personally like that no-rest-for-the-wicked approach. The final piece brings it back with the hardest joint on Side B though, with “Dr. Botanist”; a more unexpected Ayatollah production with some real dark, grimy ‘80s-type synthesizer coupled with either another synth or more likely an electric piano. ‘Tollah’s low voice sounds just as foreboding as the production and it’s a nice way to round off what has been a very enjoyable experience.
Perhaps the main thing that stands out so much about the project and makes it work so well for me is that these brothers have their own instantly recognizable sound which totally compliments each other. I know Drasar can make a slow soul groove and that Ayatollah can make a fast paced heavyhitter but for “Boxcutter Brothers 4” they have basically chosen to be each other’s opposites while both representing two staples of classic Hip-Hop. And by then splitting it up onto sides really make it become a full dish, and I think 20 minutes of these type of styles of beats and rhymes from each is just enough to keep you wanting more while still feeling pretty damn satisfied. Matter of fact, I think the LP format with its 20 minutes, take a break while you switch sides and maybe go get a beer, is the perfect format that makes for intense listening in a way that CD and digital just doesn’t offer in the same way. But that’s another topic for another day. My hopes for this release was more than met and I can only recommend it to fellow fans of that True School hip hop, because it got a lot to recommend it for. Although the vocals are not on the level of the great emcees we usually hear these cats work with the inclusion of them still help make this my favorite installment in the series so far. And for the record, wouldn’t it be dope to hear some guest emcees join the brothers in the studio for the next volume as well?
Jacob Ekberg (claaa7)