Artist: NorthstarTitle: RZA Presents NorthstarRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Paine
After the Wu-Tang Forever album, RZAs work has often been over the heads of many of the people who adored him all along. In time, Hip-Hop may learn to appreciate RZA as a daring, unconventional artist, or a man who experimented too deeply and lost touch. In any event, Bobby Digitals creativity is something few can touch. RZA Presents Northstar is one of those creative projects that spins a fresh take on Hip-Hop. Northstar, Meko and Christ Bearer-is not a RZA incarnation, but their own entity. These cats arent from Shaolin or Brooklyn either, these cats are from the Left Coast (Long Beach, CA), and got the flow to prove it.
Christ Bearer and Meko are very talented MCs. So good in fact, that youll be surprised that you havent heard from them before. One of the RZA produced tracks, Red Rum has a classic Hip-Hop appeal that crosses between an early Cocoa Brovas West Indian element and a mid 90s West Coast vibe reminiscent of EA-Ski. The results are very pleasing, and Meko re-interprets a Biggie verse with his own flip. At times, Christ Bearers gliding verses (think Suga Free) seem too fast for the beat. But he and Meko divide the lyrical work well. They have diverse mic approaches, and share the same gritty, classic East Coast content matter. Still, in classic old-school LA tradition, there are dope storytelling tracks in Destiny and Duckie. So So Serious, despite a partially aggravating hook, is another gem off this LP.
Production on this album complies well with the bi-coastal appeal of the MCs. RZA produced four tracks with his hand-ear coordination shining on Red Rum, a mid-school percussion type of street track. However, the other three are RZAs dabbling into West Coast minded production - the best of the batch being 64, named aptly for a driving anthem on sunny LA freeways. Hip-Hop/Dance DJ Armand Van Helden premiers his own production on two tracks: Luv Allah, the albums opening ballad is just that a ballad that really sets a high bar for the LP. Mathematics furthers his reputation for being a godsend to Wus production woes. The soul sample and quick chops sound refreshing at a time when every herb out there is spinning Aretha at 65 RPM. Brooklyn heavyweight D.R. Period also dropped down with a potential hit with DRs inevitable street sounding elements.
When so many had all but counted RZA out, this project breathes fiery life into his expanding repertoire. Northstar is a dope collaborative group. While they fit into Wu tradition with entertaining album skits, string samples, and vocal toughness they do offer a new spin on dope West Coast MCs. In many ways this album is an ode to an era of Hip-Hop in the West that didnt get enough acclaim. If this album wouldve dropped at the height of Wus mainstream appeal in the late 90s, it would dominate the airwaves.