Live From Rome

Artist: SoleTitle: Live From RomeRating: 2 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Paine

For almost a decade, Anticon (Alias, Sole, Doseone, Jel, et. al.) has grown into garnering one of the most serious underground Hip-hop cults, ever. Still, many people throughout the industry will give you an, “Anticon, who?” when the name comes up. The reason is not underexposure, rather it’s the group’s intense interpretation of Hip-hop in spoken word, mixed with awkward tempos, studio drums, and dark subject matter that has held them back, and made them legendary all at once. For spokesperson and co-founder of the group, Sole, this is all old hat. The Ohio native turned Oakland refuge has presented his third album, Live From Rome (Anticon), as the most anticipated release from the camp in over a year. Set in his way for better and worse, Sole has much to discuss with those who can stomach his rants.

Sole’s earnestness has allowed him to become a global poet/rapper/icon. After all, this is what Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) chills out to. On “Crisis”, Sole prescribes the answer to the changing times as walking into the ocean. The metaphoric suicide strikes a chord with some, but disgusts others. Whether or not Sole is waxing his trademark cynicism or being serious in this matter remains to be seen throughout. While Group Home toyed with suicide in their hit, “Livin’ Proof”, this doesn’t come in such neatly packaged terms. Sole shifts his attitude slightly to comment on the decaying times in a consumer world with, “Imsotired.” “Sin Carne” reveals a man who some years ago could’ve been a very dope MC. Sole can utilize real timing and kick science in his own apocalyptic way. Historically, this moaning and wallowing has always been Sole’s trademark since his successful “Bottle of Humans”, several years ago. To his credit, Sole does analyze every sociological thing that you could possibly imagine. He rhymes at his regular, fast speed spouting out information that you could easily plagiarize for a Master’s thesis. The problem though, is in Sole’s unbending attitude, and lack of variety. Everything is hopeless. The world is ending. Woe is me. When Grandmaster Melle Mel felt the same way in “The Message”, he at least wasn’t going to lay down and die – or walk into the ocean.

For those in love with Anticon’s ‘anything-but-traditional’ production sense, Alias and Tepr further the gap. One of the crew’s newer rising stars, Odd Nosdam gives Sole a little light for those in search of more. With heavy vocal sampling, Nosdam brings out some magic in “Cheap Entertainment.” The track sounds as good digitally as we’d tolerate at a live show, but perhaps it meshes well against the subject matter of Sole’s lyrics, and the ruggedness of the entire project. Another successful Nosdam moment is found on one of the album’s stronger lyrical efforts, “Dumb this Down”, featured Trip-Hop minded production that uses pounding bass and guitar that sounds busy, but crisp enough to admire. Another key differentiating point in Live in Rome, is “Theme.” Produced by Matt, this is the only slow & low song on the album that allows Sole to demonstrate his poetry in a more conventional setting. Here, Sole organizes his content in a way that speaks in the same circles as Talib Kweli and Immortal Technique. With outstanding string arrangements and softer percussion, Matt might be something that Sole wishes to seek in the future. “Bags under our eyes because our tears need homes,” reveals the intricacy and strong imagery that Sole is capable of when presented properly.

Live in Rome is more of a musical advancement for Sole than a lyrical step up. Granted, he makes it very clear that 2004 has been a muse for his cynicism and post-modern attitude. But the tone and the attitude of the speaker remain unbudged. For many, this will be the answer that they’ve sought out all year. For others, Sole remains a crybaby who ignores his Hip-hop lineage, and has as much credibility as a Britney Spear’s freestyle. One can only wonder if Sole humors himself in this, or if he truly cares about one word from his mouth.