The brother duo of Nawlege 405 and Solomis are 1980s babies who found a bond as younger siblings through hip-hop. Their group title of 832 bears a significant meaning as they proudly wear the number of the Oklahoma City home that they grew up in before it was burned to ashes. Their latest album Love And Fear features rhymes and beats as stark as vacant tenement buildings, both rappers refusing to hold their tongues regarding inner turmoil as well as the external chaos that floods the world around them. Within the album’s opening song, they refer to themselves as “political rhyme peddlers.” While it may not be immediately apparent as to why, just keep listening.
A track like “Sweetest Hangover” delivers what’s expected and does it well, easily making it a candidate for a single release. Working off a groove from a classic Diana Ross tune, Nawlege and Solomis spit alcohol-soaked tales over a West Coast-inspired rhythm, low riders creeping through double time hi-hats. The sped-up chunks of Louis Armstrong that intro “Wonderful World” unfold into cleverly orchestrated loops that are chopped and spread over a skeletal beat. The brothers of 832 rhyme circles around each other, lyrically bobbing and weaving at breakneck speed. Their flow is one part Freestyle Fellowship, one part Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, an equal balance of multi-syllabic wordplay and impressive showmanship.
Both of these factors are on dazzling display during “Hydroplainin” as a sweet soul instrumental gets hacked into staccato sample slices. Nawlege and Solomis are slower in vocal speed on this one but no less funky, choosing instead to verbally bounce alongside the jingle bell accents and G-Funk frequencies. Even the slightly off-key chorus sounds unquestionably cool on this airy, hazy selection. However, the sharp edges of their lyrics can still cut deep and “Too Many Lies Burned” is a great example. While a wavering guitar finds its way over laid back drum pads and calming female background vocals, 832 runs down a litany of sociopolitical concerns including polluted waters, the 9/11 tragedy, and the Y2K scare. Lest we think that their fingers point solely towards the Bush administration for opportunities lost, these guys aren’t ones to let Obama off the hook, either (“Yes We Can…lie”).
The songs that comprise Love And Fear reflect an approach captured by a Dead Prez album title: Revolutionary But Gangsta. The smoky and sinister backing track of “Throw The Dice” provides 832 with the perfect setting for their battle stances, wielding rhymes like samurai swords. On the title track, they are practically pleading for peace in a world of war, their impassioned delivery forcing the listener to pay close attention to every word. The way in which they express themselves is just as impressive as what’s being said. Lesser emcees would stumble over themselves if they had to work with the instrumental for “Good Life,” which flips a sample origin in 7/4 time into an offbeat 4/4 rhythm. Nawlege and Solomis attack the track slightly behind the beat and make it their own, working the instrumental with the finesse of seasoned jazz musicians.
The head banging, chaotic waltz of “DEAD AT LAST!!!” closes the album with 832 ripping through bars in 3/4 time, laying to rest any doubts about their talents on the microphone. Love And Fear is a diamond in the rough of present-day hip-hop, a release that’s willing to tap into a world much bigger than the genre, yet still directly affected by that world’s changes. Nawlege and Solomis recognize the power of their words and their place within a larger battle between good and evil. In a world where narcissism reigns supreme and accountability isn’t even an afterthought with most artists, this album should be celebrated for that reason alone.
Album: Love And Fear
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Dallas hasn’t had as famous or celebrated a hip-hop scene as Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York City (where hip-hop started), Oakland, New Orleans or Philadelphia, but some talented MCs have come from that Texas city over the years (including The D.O.C., Nemesis, the Fila Fresh Crew and Big Tuck). And in recent years, the Dallas hip-hop scene has given us 832, a duo consisting of brothers De’Scaun Lee Parker, a.k.a. Nawlege 405 (b. March 11, 1986) and Travon Damar Parker, a.k.a. Solomis (b. September 2, 1989). 832 also have an Oklahoma City connection; that’s where they are originally from. But it was after the siblings moved to Dallas that they recorded their EP, Synergy (a 2011 release). Love and Fear is their first official full-length album, and parts of this early 2013 release demonstrate that the Parker siblings aren’t afraid of depth and intellect.
These days, hip-hop is full of rappers who specialize in decadent, hedonistic party music; their lyrics are all about “getting crunk in the club,” drinking Alizé, making money, obtaining an endless supply of bling-bling and having casual sex with multiple partners. In other words, they are offering pure fantasy and pure escapism. Instead of “keeping it real,” they are keeping it in the fantasy realm. But 832 have a lot more substance than that, and they are quite capable of deep-thinking rhymes. A recurring theme on this album is trying to keep your head above water and live a moral, decent life despite life’s challenges; that theme asserts itself on “Good Life,” “Too Many Lies Burned,” “Dead At Last!!!,” “What Do You Say to Faith?” and “Shadowed Eyes.”
Biblical themes often assert themselves on Love and Fear. The haunting “Devil May Cry” is a perfect example. On that track, one hears a deep, sinister voice that is meant to be Satan, and the voice portraying Satan offers the rappers plenty of rewards if they will follow him (including a lot of sex and a lot of money) and promises them an abundance of misfortune if they don’t follow him. But Nawlege 405 and Solomis assert that they have no desire to give in to Satan, regardless of what he might promise or threaten. The message of “Devil May Cry” is that Satan is offering fool’s gold.
In addition to being lyrically substantial, 832 often rap over grooves, beats and tracks that are musically interesting. For example, “Sweetest Hangover” (which features guest rapper B-Eazy) samples Diana Ross’ 1976 hit “Love Hangover,” one of the definitive songs of the Disco Era. And on “Wonderfull World” (as opposed to “Wonderful World”), one hears a sample of Louis Armstrong’s 1967 hit “What a Wonderful World.” But the Parker Brothers don’t use the Armstrong sample at its original speed. Instead, they speed it up, making it sound the way it would have sounded back in 1967 if one had played a 33-speed LP at 45 speed. So instead of hearing the husky, gravelly voice that Armstrong was famous for, one hears a high-pitched Alvin & the Chipmunks-like voice. To some listeners, the idea of speeding up “What a Wonderful World” might sound silly, but for 832, it serves a useful purpose and adds a touch of comedy to an album that is full of serious introspection and heavy themes.
Love and Fear opens with the epic “Welcome to the Show,” which has the sort of big, grandiose, larger-than-life hook that a lot of Dirty South rappers are known for. If one listened to that opener without hearing anything else on this 57-minute CD, it would be easy to assume that Love and Fear was going to be an exercise in total escapism and a nonstop ode to wild partying. But while the bigness and infectiousness of “Welcome to the Show” might lead listeners to assume that this is strictly a party album, the seriousness that comes later on “Devil May Cry,” “Shadowed Eyes,” “Pain and Progression” and other selections makes it clear that Love and Fear certainly isn’t about all partying all the time.
As far as deep-thinking hip-hop goes, Love and Fear isn’t in a class with the best sociopolitical albums that KRS-1, Public Enemy, Ice-T, Ice Cube and 2 Black 2 Strong offered during their heyday. But Love and Fear is a respectable, worthwhile effort, and it is good to see some 21st Century MCs going for depth and substance instead of running away from it.
Love and Fear
Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars out of 5