Artist: High PriestTitle: Born IdentityRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Michelle Cavanaugh
High Priests stint with the East Coast group Antipop Consortium (APC) was a strangely brewed concoction of Hip-Hop, jazz, and electronica. APC released one album and toured with DJ Shadow and Radiohead before disbanding in the early 00’s. Priest and fellow ex-Antipop member M. Sayyid then formed Airborn Audio, put out and album on Ninja Tune and toured the country with Bright Eyes and the Faint. High Priest continues his non-catchy habits on his debut solo album, Born Identity (Sound-Ink Records). He leaves out the jazz and throws in slow tempo, abstract dub beats, which puts Priests lyrics at the forefront.
Priest reaches his climax on “Pitfalls.” The track is about war and compares the life or death of the soldiers in Iraq returning from home with vets from the Vietnam War. Priest raps “Vietnam-era old heroin fiends/In his pockets is a dream to redeem that goes unseen/This could be ’73 or ’07/A lot of people looking from heaven since 9/11.” The dark and dreary drum programming over a simple keyboard rhythm fits the eerie mood. “They Will Never See” has an echo-y vibe with lyrical style comparable to Big Pun and Nas. Although its anxiously repetitive flow is distracting and would never make it on any of the their albums. Priest speeds it up on “This Is For My People,” over a futuristic and feisty beat.
Wrapping it up with a familiar backdrop, Priest uses the sound effects from the final battle of Mario Bros. 3 on “Next Level.” He uses it as a metaphor for freedom from war and freedom for himself. The smooth instrumental denouement, “Keep Time” features members of TV On The Radio. Singer Tunde Adibempe harmonizes, minimally, while Jaleel Bunton plays sitar and percussion and Priest as bassist, keyboardist, and producer.
The album proves that there is a thin line between innovative and annoying. High Priest manages to walk the tightrope, slipping off occasionally. He raps “And me, I’m just a quiet reflection, spraying bars in a thousand directions.” Couldn’t have said it better.