North by Northwest

Artist: SoulSticeTitle: North by NorthwestRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Bill Low-Key Heinzelman

With the windy city producing some of the best material these days, it’s only right that it is home to one of Hip-Hop's best kept secrets, SoulStice. The Chi-town emcee started out as most emcees do, by rocking local parties and events to build a name for himself. Eventually, SoulStice met up with a local producer, S.M. Arson, and they helped to form Banarnar Records. The label made some noise across Chicago, but it was not until SoulStice dropped his debut album in 2003, that Banarnar really took off. With North By Northwest (Wandering Soul Records), Soulstice took the local scene by storm with his slick flow, precise wordplay and charismatic personality.

As an emcee, SoulStice has a strong ability to control a track. He has that certain flare that attracts you to him instantaneously. SoulStice's debut album North By Northwest is proof of this, as the album displays the emcee's commanding presence. His lead single "The Melody" finds Soul riding Oddisee's playful piano beat with ease. SoulStice's wordplay on the track is phenomenal, as he glides across the track gracefully. "Sleepwalk" is another beautiful effort, as SoulStice opens up and gives us his most intimate track yet. Soul delves into his emotional pain on the song, telling each listener, "Right or wrong, live life, write a song about it".

Even though SoulStice's best efforts on the album are his most intimate ones, he displays a variety of sounds throughout his effort. "It's All Love" should very well be a windy city anthem, as the summertime track finds SoulStice riding through Chicago on a beautiful day. "On a day like this I feel like hitting the gas, roll the window down feeling the blast, think of my past…it's all love". On the battle tip, Soul is also fierce on the mic. "Hold Your Breath" and "Watchu Want" are both metaphor and punch line heavy tracks that find SoulStice as sharp as a ginsue knife.

While North By Northwest is an extremely impressive album, it does suffer from some inconsistent production. The album tends to get in trouble when SoulStice strays away from his usual brand of soulful production. "Anywhere" and "S.O.U.L." both suffer from mediocre synthesizer beats that lacks any depth or creativity. In addition, on "Don't Come Through", SoulStice tries to switch things up with a doubled timed flow; however, the song's bland production fails to match his quick speed.

For an independent artist's first album, North By Northwest will certainly open some eyes. SoulStice provides a lot of variety throughout the album, offering everything from emotional and personal songs to blazing battle rhymes. While the production is hit or miss on a few occasions, it certainly does not take away from SoulStice's overall performance. Chicago should be proud because SoulStice just might be the city's best rising star.