Alex Hnderson (Contributor: Spin, LA Weekly, amongst others)
Mind Flex Review
Album: Mind Flex
Review by Alex Henderson
The term “keeping it real” has been used quite a bit in hip-hop circles, but these days, many rappers are keeping it in the fantasy realm. With their decadent, hedonist lyrics about bling-bling, expensive liquor, luxury cars, casual sex with supermodels and nonstop clubbing, those MCs aren’t keeping it real, but rather, are offering listeners a diet of pure escapism. That’s how they roll. However, Connecticut rapper Chris Rapple, a.k.a. Brash, takes a much more introspective and thoughtful approach on Mind Flex. This excellent album isn’t introspective 100 percent of the time; Brash doesn’t hesitate to brag about his rapping skills (a time-honored hip-hop tradition that goes back to the late 1970s), and he makes it known that he isn’t afraid to battle a sucker MC if necessary (another time-honored hip-hop tradition that goes back to the late 1970s). But he does show a lot of vulnerability on Mind Flex, often rapping about his own struggles and his battles with his demons.
On “15 Minutes,” Brash raps about the challenges of trying to make it in the music industry, and he mentions his history of substance abuse on “Drop,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Hey, Bartender.” Many commercial rappers will rhyme about “getting crunk in the club,” but when this MC talks about alcohol, he isn’t giving listeners party music; he is pointing out how damaging alcohol can be when it isn’t used in moderation.
While “I Don’t Know What to Do” touches on the subject of depression, “Keep It Together” is about staying strong and not allowing one’s demons to prevail when adversity rears its ugly head. And that theme of not giving in to one’s demons is also present on the title song and “So It Goes.” The latter finds Brash reflecting on his experiences in life and concluding that because one only has one life to live, it’s foolish to throw it away doing self-destructive things.
But again, Brash isn’t always introspective. While Brash is far from a gangsta rapper, he can bust a battle rhyme if need be. “Kick a Mic Down” (which features fellow East Coast rapper Blak Philly) and “Going Off” definitely have a battle outlook and put sucker MCs on notice. There is a strong b-boy element to this album, and while Brash doesn’t flow like an old school 1980s rapper (his rhyming style is definitely modern), it is evident that he admires the vocal prowess that East Coast b-boys were known for back in the day. Brash clearly knows how to flow; his proficiency on the mic is never in question.
Mind Flex isn’t an overly political album; this 2011 release isn’t sociopolitical to the degree that albums by Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T, Ice Cube, Paris or 2 Black 2 Strong were heavily sociopolitical back in the golden age of hip-hop. That said, “The World Ain’t Round” is a superb, albeit depressing, piece of social commentary. The tune is about two college students who come from different economic backgrounds and take very different paths. One is John Tucker, a spoiled rich kid who uses heroin and doesn’t really care about the education his affluent parents are paying for; the other is Jen Marcie, a serious-minded young woman who is working two jobs to pay her way through college and hopes to make a difference in the world. So what happens? Tucker drives his Mercedes (the one his dad paid for) under the influence, loses control of the vehicle and kills Jen while she is out walking. He is guilty of vehicular homicide, but because Tucker’s family can afford the best defense attorney money can buy, he avoids prison. Brash’s conclusion: the world is seriously screwed up, and sometimes, life can really suck. “The World Ain’t Round” might be cynical, although it’s also painfully honest.
But even though Brash can be dark at times, Mind Flex is ultimately a positive album. Brash uses hip-hop to confront his own demons, giving the impression that he is determined not to let them prevail. So even though Mind Flex is hardly the work of a Pollyanna, Brash ultimately sees the glass as half full rather than half empty (although the “glass” analogy might be inappropriate in light of how much time he spends rapping about the dangers of alcohol abuse).
Brash shows considerable promise on this memorable album.
Review by Alex Henderson
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)