The Middle Passage
This album doesn't only borrow it's title from Naipaul's Nobel prize winning book "The Middle Passage", the cover also mentions that it was inspired by this masterpiece of travel writing. And if you look at what the book is about, it doesn't tell you of clean beaches, sparkling water or picturesque mountain tops, but, to use the words of Amazon.com, "follows a racially charged election campaign in British Guiana (now Guyana) and marvels at the Gallic pretension of Martinique society, which maintains the fiction that its roads are extensions of France's routes nationales. [Naipaul] relates the ghastly episodes of the region's colonial past and shows how they continue to inform its language, politics, and values." What then however has to allow the question, if the Himalayan Project is decorating themselves with the association of one incredible piece of literature, that they could never achieve with their own art.
But if you allow Rainman and Chee Malabar to talk to you for the span of eleven tracks, you will realize that their music is very much self reliant and not trying to steal some of the praise given to Naipaul's work. The inspiration was also not meant to have them talk about what the book speaks about in obvious and direct ways, but it rather profits from the total of inspired mood, that helps the two to complete this album.
About half of the album is kept smooth, what is very much to their benefit, as on the occasions where they are getting more bouncy with things, the tracks are often still paired with polished layers. Like on "Beyond This", where the drum is dominant, what then is contrasting the atmospheric background. Things progress on the more standard hip hop tip on "Nuthin' Nice", that's going for the braggadocios verses. There are more bouncy cuts on here, like "Everything" and "Essential Elements", that are coming across cool, but if we are digging deeper into the album, we will hear the true jewels elsewhere.
Cause first of all, there are two acapella rhyming / spoken word tracks on here. One is "The Unseen Side", where criticism is uttered utilizing global catastrophic prophecies, while on the second cut "Malabar", things are taken down from the heavens and are put on the soil of an easily based in reality dialogue, between an unlikely older cat with the wisdom, and the still doubting Malabar. And on these two cuts we hear the lyrical power the Himalaya's are packing. And if we are checking out the tracks "Ecolocation", "1964" and "Bridge Techniques", we will also hear very dope beats, that were, like every other track on here produced by Scott Koozner. On "Ecolocation" he puts some whale singing sounds to the cut, while the rhyming cats get expressions out that are often enough of direct but fitting punchline proportions. On "1964" we are treated to one of the top tracks that we are likely to hear all this year, cause the lyrical poetism is of the strength of the acapella pieces, with the beat being just absolutely amazing, with the perfect wind gusting through your hair type vibe. Finally there's "Bridge Techniques", that's getting a little quicker again, but that still features a hopeful sample.
So if the Himalayas are walking a middle passage, then the one of combining the two styles of coming with punchlines and doing real poetic expression, as well as the pathway between the bouncy and smoothed out. And they walk this path very comfortably, with both ways being right for them, both getting them to where they want to go, and we are mainly thankful that we were asked to come along.
A To The L
A solid addition to your collection.
Himalayan Project - The Middle Passage - Red Bench
By: A to the L [email@example.com]
Himalayan Project was founded in 1994 by members Rainman and Chee Malabar, while they were high school juniors in San Francisco. In the beginning they battled and busted over homemade pause tapes, but as their skills started to grow they began to put together 4 track tape collabs. In '95 both succumbed to the call of college, with Rainman setting off for UC Irvine, and Malabar heading for Penn State. Undeterred by distance, they continued to collab, sending tapes to each other back and forth across the country.
Every artist seems to have a "day I got lucky" story, and Himalayan Project are no exception. Their break came when Rainman met up with DJ Cheapshot (from Styles Of Beyond) at his college radio station. Cheapshot liked what he heard and offered the duo some beats that Styles of Beyond had passed on. Using these beats, they developed a reputation for ripping mics and finally garnered enough encouragment to consider releasing some tracks. The resulting 4-track EP sold around 1000 units.
The next step was a move to the East Coast where the duo hooked up with Scott Koozner (who handled production for Styles of the Mountain Brothers) to record The Middle Passage. A nice little story, huh? Well it doesn't mean shit if the album doesn't come up to scratch, so lets give it the "treatment"...
The first couple of tracks are like a combination of punches to the head and gut. The opener is also the title track, and carries a mellow vibe with a warm saxaphone sample flitting in and out of the mix. The beat isn't wasted on the emcees either - Rainman and Chee use the slow pace to eloquently explain how they got together, paying homage to their roots all the time. Chee especially captures the essence of his struggle coming up as an immigrant from Bombay, India...
" '89 there was a line that we moved to California / Eleven years old I was an immigrant poster-child / Dilligent, broke and - forced to strive / In the course of life I've seen dreams thru my folks' hopeful eyes / Most nights I hold mics and seldom socialize..."
Like I said - head and gut. The opener has your head nodding as you vibe to the laidback beat, fooling you into thinking the rest of the album is gonna follow this line... then "Beyond This" kicks in. This is an uptempo banger with a distinct Asian flavour. Its a total departure from the first cut, and a devastating example that HP are comfortable with both kicking back, and going for theirs.
"Nuthin' Nice" and "Everything" will also go a long way towards enhancing the Himalayan Project reputation. The former is a straight up battle track, featuring some of the dopest one liners I've heard this year over a bouncy backdrop of noise ("I've been rhyming since Christ was just in his father's pants"). The latter is a stunning example of how simple ingredients can combine together to make a great Hiphop track - this consists of nothing but a heavy drum track, a garbled jazz piano break, an addictive sing-song chorus, and both emcees ripping the mic. Dope.
As mentioned earlier, Rainman and Malabar aren't just about rocking mics - their intent to educate and enlighten at the same time shines throughout, but is especially bright on "1964" where Chee touches on the negative effects of capitalism and greed ("dead presidents replacing the god's your praising - Jesus? nah it's just G's" ), pollution, and immigration. What makes this song so striking, the fact that backing up the heavy words is one of the most "folksy" tunes you'll ever hear. Again, its a case of simplicity working - the audio backdrop compliments the topics without acting as a distraction.
Negative points are few and far between. The only track I wasn't really feeling was "Universal Coverage", where both Chee and Rainman perhaps try a little too hard to fit the "scary battle emcee" persona. Couple this with the fact that the beats on this joint are a little bland, and you're left with the only below average cut on the album.
Sometimes I'm astounded by the quality of some of the underground releases I'm asked to review. Himalayan Project have raised the bar another notch, by producing an album that takes the good things from the world of Hiphop, blends them with the real life experiences of Chee and Rainman, and spits them out in a format that reflects the love these two cats have for their families, their cultures, and for Hiphop music as a whole. A solid addition to your collection.
ALTRAP.COM RATING OF : 4 Out Of 5