Artist: Afu-RaTitle: State of the ArtsRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Jay Peregrine
Many adjectives can be used to describe Afu Ra and his projects because he can hit you from so many angles, just like one of his round house kicks. One word that comes to mind ,when you examine his body of work, is consistency. Ever since his debut in 1994 on Jeru the Damaja’s “Mental Stamina” Afu has maintained the same frame of mind. He doesn’t change his perspective with the winds of trends, he still reps for the struggle and he continues to exercise his freedom as an artist. He also spits from the heart. On State of he Arts (Decon) Afu extends that artistic freedom from the microphone to the production side of things by incorporating more Afro-Caribe, heavy metal and dancehall rythms into this project, along with the traditional hardcore Hip-hop beats Afu listeners are accustomed to. And as usual, he has an impressive guest list of collaborators who he always manages to blend well with.
An early standout on the album is the excellent Joe Roach produced “Pusha” featuring Royce Da 5’9, which serves as a tribute to how the two hustle hard on the microphone to make these records and earn their pay. The premise of the song is summed up by Afu drawing a parallel with lines like “since 93 I been workin up in the jungle/ I never clock out/ gotta finish my bundle”. Not surprisingly, Royce steals the show on his verse when he flips about a dozen acroonyms in ridiculous fashion over a synth beat with heavy bass drums. Another cut to check for is “Livin Like Dat”, featuring Masta Killa, which shows great chemistry between the two over a Bronze Nazareth produced beat that
sounds straight from Shaolin, circa 1997. One particular song on the album, “Rumble”, might be a little too electric guitar heavy for the average Hip-hop fan but on “Ghetto Hell” he finds a very good balance with the rhythm of the drums and the electric guitar. The level of lyricism on many of the efforts can become disinteresting and eventually lose the listener but the variety can keep you tuned in if you have an ear for something different from the majority of Hip-hop floating around these days. On “Why
Cry”, a heartfelt track that delves into the state of affairs for poor people around the globe and stresses unity, Gavin Dally lays down a mellow roots reggae track with liquefied guitar licks that dominate the track while Gentleman provides great support by singing in between Afu’s verses. The obligatory Primo track “Sucka Free” becomes redundant really fast and is a bit of a disappointment.
While this record may not be state of the art in terms of wordplay, punchlines, bravado, materialism and the trendy hooks that dominate todays Hip-hop landscape, Afu utilizes versatility, a variety of musical styles and his unbiased point of view to give us his take on the The State of the Arts. Overall it’s a very respectable effort with a wide range of music and a few very good songs. Lyrically Afu hasn’t lost a step but then again has hasn’t gained a step. He’s still the same free flowing stream of consciousness M.C./artist on an international paper route and sure to get at
least one new subscriber everyday