Nathaniel Long of Hiphoplinguistics.com
Worth the Struggle?
I had one of those weeks last week. You know, where you’re just lazy and unmotivated. Early Monday morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to go to work. Shit, once I got there, I just stared vacantly at my computer, waiting for lunch to come around. I didn’t even want to write any reviews, and could think about anything but the next weekend.
Sometimes, things just don’t seem worth it. Worth the struggle, worth the hard work, or worth the time I invest.
Sometimes, my job seems like it doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like anybody reads my articles or peeps my website. Sometimes, it seems like nobody cares. And from time to time, this makes me not care either. Monday was definitely one of those times.
On my way home that day, I stopped by the mailbox to see who was hollering at me. Unfortunately, there were just a couple bills, a few advertisements, and a big manila envelope postmarked from Chicago. I checked it out to find a copy of a new underground release entitled “Figured It Out,” by a Chicago-based rapper named Visual. With the same lackadaisical attitude I had all day, I threw the disc into the CD player in my bedroom and didn’t even press play. I just laid there on my bed staring at the ceiling.
Next thing I knew, it was six a.m. Although I don’t recall setting my alarm, it was blaring, and the album being played was the Visual album I had received just the day before. Although still half asleep, I picked up a couple things he was saying … something about “focusing on my mission,” “I found what I am,” and “look in the mirror, be proud.” Something about the album’s first verse energized me. I jumped up, showered and shaved, and got all geared up while bumping “Figured It Out.”
All of a sudden, I felt great. Visual’s lyrics were very motivational, and made me want to get out and accomplish something. His inspirational lyrics, positive street narratives, and get up anthems inspired me, and somehow fueled me through the week. I ended up listening to the album all the way to and from work each day, as well as on my computer while I was there.
The whole experience made me think about success and failure among hip-hoppers. Do you know that around 30% of the hip-hop generation consists of high school dropouts? In some areas, the rate is closer to 70%. As you probably know, most of these cats end up either dead or in jail, often as a result of gang violence and illegal activities. And the crazy thing about that is that many are highly intelligent and capable, they just lack the self-esteem, motivation or inspiration to get out and try to accomplish anything.
Visual’s “Figured It Out” seems aimed at this section of our generation. Although the album contains several in-your-face descriptions of the negativity and struggle surrounding urban life in America, centered on one of the nation’s biggest, richest and hence poorest cities, Visual manages to maintain an amazing positive outlook without glorifying or attempting to commercialize his situation as other street rappers often do. Instead, his words speak to the minds of the hip-hop generation, challenging the youth to work hard, sacrifice and stay the path in order to overcome the negativity surrounding them and prosper in the present and future.
Visual is, without a doubt, an intelligent and talented lyricist. But as corny as this may sound, what I really like about him is that he seems like a good and decent human being who cares about the people and situations around him. His words serve to motivate and inspire, something very few rappers do nowadays. This is the type of hip-hop the youth should be listening to.
So next time you’re having one of those weeks, or just need a little motivation or inspiration, pick up a copy of his album. Bump it for a week. I guarantee it will have you moving.
Pete Nickeas of illhiphop.org
Where's Hip-hop goin? It's Chica-goin
Visual - Figured It Out
by Pete Nickeas on Tue Jan 17 2006, 10:53PM
Visual has a rare talent that allows him to vividly describe his surroundings without necessarily glorifying or promoting the pitfalls that the people throughout urban America seem to get caught up with. He doesn’t just have an eye for detail that reminds you of Nas, he has raw talent and doesn’t get caught up in gimmicks. The final product of these components is a form of Hip-hop that is refreshingly simple and soulful.
Not nursery rhyme simple, but real-life simple. No bullshit simple. Raw, heartfelt Hip-hop simple. Unless you’ve been so blessed as to not experience any drama or other adversity, then you will understand and relate to most of what Visual has to say.
But he can still flex a little bit, lyrically speaking. “Blessed,” for example, is a track featuring Juice that shows two rappers exhibiting proper beat-riding technique, though only one who is about to make his name known. The other, J explained, already has the game sown.
In what would be a daunting task for anyone, Visual keeps up with Juice on the track, rhyme for rhyme. If you’re surprised, you should be. Visual doesn’t have the tenure or experience that J has but had no problem going verse for verse with the seasoned vet.
Panik laced this track something fierce. The drums sound like they were pulled off of some moldy, dusty vinyl from your grandma’s basement and are sequenced to give the track a certain bounce that is accented by an orchestral string sample and a faint underlying piano melody. When it comes together with the other instruments carefully scattered throughout the track, it forms one of the stronger tracks on the album, production wise.
“Dreamer” is another interesting track, to say the least. Rappers make concept tracks all the time. Atmosphere went so far as to say that every album is a concept album, but most people are working with stupid concepts. But you won’t hear another track like “Dreamer” anywhere.
Charity is a concept that tends not to make its way into Hip-hop songs, but is on full display here. It’s a touching track that skips the complications of a chorus, hook or bridge and sticks to what’s important, the verses.
“But listen, some crazy kid on the south side… last week, tweaked, got high, and pulled a drive by. He aimed at some dudes that looked just like some dudes. He missed and hit not just one innocent child, but two. If a few of yall can get together, we need like 5 g’s so we can split it up between the two families. I really just wanna see the shorties get a proper burial. I know this is crazy yall, sorry if I’m scarin’ you. But, I figure there’s enough of us to help out her, him, and them that need to be helped out.”
This is just one example of over half a dozen or so people who’s daily struggles are illustrated through Visual’s vivid descriptions, and just one example of the over half a dozen or so suggestions he makes to help out these people when they need it. “Between all of us,” he says on the track, “It’s the least we can do.”
The track where the detail is most noticeable, however, is “Blues from Chicago (Eye on tomorrow).” A three and a half minute ode to the city you came from isn’t that uncommon, but the track doesn’t just name drop famous food spots and sports teams. This cut is more of a testament to the blue-collar experience not limited to the city of big shoulders but interspersed with references that only people from the city would catch. The hook has a positive twist to it that fits nicely with the instrumental track, produced by Infinite Beats: “It’s the blues from Chicago, come feel my sorrow, but don’t ever feel stuck, keep an eye on tomorrow.”
And after listening to this album for a few times, you’ll probably walk away with the same sentiments: keeping an eye on tomorrow. With tracks like “Loyalty” and “Beautifal Woman” that let you know that this emcee stays grounded and tracks like “O.C.” and “Figured It Out” to remind you that he’s not some pop-tart emcee, the listener will walk away with a well-balanced album.
The over riding tone of the album is one of inspiration, and should be copped on that strength alone. The strong use of descriptors and adequate song writing skills helped create that tone, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear Visual again in the near future. If he can keep this up, he truly will have figured it out.
Juan Torres of HipHop-Magazine.com
Visual - Figured It Out
With Common and Kanye busy stomping over the country, you would think that people would be able to recognize Chicago and it’s prevalent hip-hop scene. Unfortunately, those emcees have been forced to move their roots to New York to make a name for themselves. For this reason, people still don’t get the Chi sound, and most glaze over the town on their way to St. Louis. If your want a sense of what the Chicago scene is like today, may I recommend “Figured It Out” by Visual.
Now, I’m not claiming that it’s one of the best albums the city has put out, but it is very reflective of where the culture stands today. It takes the good with the bad, and that seems to be what this city is all about.
From top to bottom Visual provides 18 solid tracks, while this sometimes seems like a bit much, it is a welcome change from half-ass albums. Lyrically, Visual is on point, while he breaks no new ground, his delivery is more than solid. He has the skill, and is always on beat, in the end its just good work. Content-wise, the album gets a little more interesting. The track “Dope: My Drug Story” tells the all to real story of a young hustla’s infatuation with the paper chase, and the ‘by any means necessary’ too many cats seem to have today. Visual masterfully talks about his struggles, without sounding like a down dude. New York cats might not care too much, what do they care about Humboldt Park or Logan Square? But the album feels very real, no doubt about it.
I can go either way on production; some tracks are heaters, while others have a bit of an amateur feel to it. I think it was Jay-Z who said something about getting out of the basement. The highlight of the album comes early on the very nice “Blessed” featuring JUICE with a beautiful beat by the Molemen’s Panik. If the soft half of this album had nearly the same energy, this could have been a local classic.
At the end of the day, “Figured It Out” is a top shelf offering, and it only shows Visual’s potential. But most importantly the album feels like a Chicago project. It shows that you don’t have to change your address to make some solid hip-hop