Garth Vader: Simply Dope
January of 2008 saw the release of Mr. Garth “Culti”-Vader’s second album Unpredictable Individual. Rebellious and independent, this album is the evolved expression of a talented hip hop artist firmly centered in the place he lives. Garth represents California, specifically Humboldt, and of course the roughneck weed growing culture in more than twenty tracks of deeply satisfying hip hop.
Already an experienced local musician when he released his first album, Humboldt Knightz, Vader has put years of work into this project. Anchoring the sound is the talented Humboldt master producer Piet Dalmolian, who made sure that Garth’s album made auditory sense despite drawing from a diverse array of beat makers and recorded over a few years. Dalmolian proves his star quality in his mastering on Unpredictable Individual. Subtle keys, spiritual guitar riffs, and empty spaces that mesh with the emcees, whose vocals are perfectly balanced for the sound.
It is rare that a local recording has such renowned guest stars – Garth’s guest tracks seem to have come from having such good friends and some exceptional tunes. When Sadat X of Brand Nubian was on a tour stop in Humboldt Diamondback Entertainment producer/promoter Ole Persson, played a rough mix of Garth’s song “The Light” and the New York legend offered to contribute a verse on the spot, captivated by the beat and Persson’s testimony.
Thanks to a decade’s worth of friends who have made similar hookups, Garth’s album gets an assist from several underground legends. Sonny Seeza from Onyx growls out a great contribution, Spice1 adds his thoughts to “Life goes on,” and a rocking (albeit sexist) verse from Tech N9ne blasts through “Keep it Hott.” On a creepy gangsta dark track Mikah 9, Abstract Rude and Garth explain why people should “stop telling.”
The local artists who share track space seem to have amped up their game for their shot on this album. Subliminal sabotage M.C. Problematic graces “Rock Bottom,” with a great gravelly multi-syllabic verse and Mika Sun gets a chance at eloquence. But perhaps the best performed verse contributed by anyone on the album is Elision’s two-way rhyme on “U can’t see me.”
The guests make the album shine, but the core of the album, the real substance is Mr. Garth Culti-Vader on the microphone. Garth’s flow connects to the beats, twisting and writhing around head-nodding snares and claps. The rhyming tempo changes dramatically and Vader’s flow follows the tunes like he was strapped to a roller coaster.
“One Eye Up” is a good example of just how strong he is coming for the game – borrowing a Jay-Z reference from the Black Album and an infectious string driven beat made by Myster DL, Garth and DL enunciate hardcore electric verses about hustling that ooze authenticity.
On “Transportation” the lyrics are used as percussion – words punctuating the beat and sliding through some phrasings while dropping off on others all to create a level of anxiety worthy of Ice-T. The rhyme ability is grown up to say the least – in places it feels musically ground breaking.
California 215 medical prescription of cannabis has created an alluring semi-legal occupation that provides the inventive space for Vader to get eloquent about herbals. But instead of just focusing on the underground wealth, Garth seems to balance his stories about herb with the hard-luck blues of a working-class single dad.
Like Redman, Garth’s rhymes more about the need to sling pot to keep his life together – a kind of illuminating self-despair comes through at times. On songs like “Got shitted on,” Garth documents the victims of the drug war as much as the champions. Jail, helicopters, police, snitches, and the daily anxiety all make it into the songs.
In “Life goes on” Vader writes: “That’s why I made this/for my people caught up in those positions/I’ll never forget them/but hopefully we’ll be forgiven/when we make the change from within/to see things a little different.”
The choice to live as an independent, outlaw artist means certain freedoms, but it also comes with risks. Lack of radio play, struggle for distribution, and the difficulty in producing high-quality music all plague even the most heart-felt of independent releases. This album seems to overcome those difficulties with exceptional quality and big heart. The sound is better than most albums, and the rhyming artists are in epic form. Unpredictable Individual is a stunning piece of composition and a unique product of Humboldt worthy for any hip hop fan or lover of freedom.