J. Rawls / The Living Vibe, Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns & Topics

J. Rawls / The Living Vibe, Histories Greatest Battles, Campaigns & Topics (2003)

This production showcase belongs to J. Rawls, best known as one-half of underground hip-hop group Lone Catalysts and the beat maker behind Black Star’s “Brown-Skinned Lady.” Most of his techniques are familiar ones, from chopping a track up like DJ Premier on “The Art of War,” for example, to breaking another into several sequential bits on “Sixty-Three is the Jubilee,” which is defined by piano notes that slide back and forth like a shimmering pond. His tone throughout Histories Greatest Battles is so austere, it feels anachronistic, like a long-lost soundtrack to Carter G. Woodson’s The Journal of Negro History. The two main vocal tracks both help and hinder this impression. B.J. Digby’s competently straightforward “Hard Rock” opens the album before giving way to Rawls’ ambitions, while Tavaris’ overwrought theatrics on the final track, “Future,” sends the narrative crashing down to earth in an avalanche of sentiment. Until that throwaway epilogue, most of the hour-long Histories Greatest Battles recalls Abstract Tribe Unique’s Underground Fossils and the Highlife Movement’s …estuary, two late-90s oddities from L.A.’s Project Blowed camp that predate J. Rawls’ literary vision. Female Fun.

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