Is it possible to be blinded by positivity?
I think so, because I have built up a long list of what eHarmony calls “must haves and can’t stands” with the music I keep in my library. Repeat offenders at this site know one of my “can’t stands” is Auto-Tune and other tools that tip the hand of an album as being over-produced. Raw talent trumps a glossy cover 9 out of 10 times, though any producer worth their salt knows how to package a sound and add layers that are generally aesthetic, thereby moving product. We all recognize the pleasing sound but know that while catchy, the message is flat, or nonexistent at all, and it falls to the critics to cry out that the emperor has no clothes.
So what happens when the message is one you buy into?
The Higher Concept, or THC (hmm…), a hip-hop trio out of New York City, is so brightly optimistic in their message and tight with their lyrical stylings that it is virtually impossible to say a bad thing about them. They’re like a wired-hair terrier wearing aviator goggles and a scarf while riding in a motorcycle sidecar: you can’t help but smile. Oh, and their music is solid, too.
We may be only 13 years removed from the peak of rock and hip-hop fusion, but there was a reason some bands mastered it and the rest imitated it: when the blend is right, it sounds so right. The 3 MCs of The Higher Concept: IB, Matty J, and Tekst back their rhymes with guitars, bass, and drums but the real rhythm section is in their poetry. Instead of boastful rap or trying to settle scores through freestyle, the trio speaks of love; happiness; and generally enjoying life. Their new album, Everybody, is an incredibly thoughtful party album. Purists may say it is hip hop, but I’m sorry: if you have a line “Put your glasses in the air,” you have either a party album or are at a Renaissance Fair dinner table and have a flagon of mead within arm’s reach.
Even a party album has peaks and valleys, but the strengths of Everybody are the high energy moments. The trio’s rhymes in “Everything” take on a life of their own and become an instrument in and of themselves. The rap/rock fusion in “Runnin’ Away,” featuring the delightful Missy Modell, creates a truly infectious beat and makes you want to run toward something.
There are plenty of filtered vocals, Auto-Tune, and drum loops but when used for the good of a positive message instead of selling a few extra million records, you tend to look the other way. Intelligent hip-hop comes around only so often; IB, Matty J, and Tekst keep everything high-brow and optimistic. They want to be “changing lives one rhyme at a time,” and as ridiculous as that may sound in our cynical time, it is worth considering and Everybody is worth your times. You want to call them out for what they are doing, but this emperor is wearing Sergeant Pepper’s finest satin.
And it fits them well.