Artist: Sol UprisingTitle: SolpowerRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Fat Tony

Sol Uprising is the earthy and conscious alter ego of respected underground emcee Lil’ Sci (Scienz of Life) and vocalist/emcee Stacy Epps. After Stacy’s several appearances on S.O.L’s album Project Overground, the chemistry she created alongside Sci and ID4 Windz was so strong that eventually it grew into a full time project. That project became a group, and Sol Uprising (as a unit and a movement) was born. It is an entity made up of equal parts revolution, consciousness, spirituality, and tradition; with a strong reverence and love for the culture of hip-hop.

Sol Power is the debut, and its sound is built on a sturdy foundation of soulful, melodic tracks full of beats that are so fuzzy and gritty that they almost smell like the dusty back-room basement of some old head’s wax shop. Sol Uprising take the best aspects of groups like BlackStar and The Roots and blend them skillfully with their own convictions and perceptions, making for a singular artistic voice that is as familiar as it is universal. The combination of Sci’s scratched-throat delivery, Epps’s smooth vocals, and tracks that vibe without being obtrusive make Sol Power easy to fall into, while the poetry and intelligence are what keep the listener tuned and interested. Where Sci’s rhymes are straightforward and the sound of his voice itself is gritty, Stacy is the counterbalance, using her evocative and sometimes mesmerizing vocals to enhance the texture of the tracks. Whether over dusky, jazz-flavored beats, or sultry, electrified funk guitars, she uses her voice to elevate and describe each track. Overall, the tone of the album is joyful, like a sunny day in ’94 spent just riding around in the back of a topless jeep with these perfect, Tribe-sounding, heavy jazz-laced beats on blast. Lots of subtle piano, lots of rubber-band acoustic bass. It’s the type of album you feel before you actually hear it.

Sci teams up with longtime partner ID4 Windz for most of the production and together they construct a backdrop of tracks that conjures up nostalgia for the glory days of Common, De La and the first Jazzamatazz album. Lyrically Sol Uprising comes through as deep without being pretentious, poetic without being abstract, with slang thick enough to balance out the metaphysics and enough realism to keep it grounded. The chemistry between Sci and Epps is evident in the ebb and flow of their very different deliveries on “They Don’t Know,” where the two switch it back and forth to speak out against the ignorance of a monotonous culture. But where Sci is strictly on the rhymes, Stacy displays her versatility, jumping deftly from soulful, sung melodies to rhymes exhorting revolution. This type of dual singing/rapping is most evident on the intense anthem; “The Uprising;” a song that is the blueprint for the Sol Uprising philosophy. It serves as both a warning and a heralding of their revolution, and in it both emcees come off intricate and tight.

Undoubtedly, Sol Uprising will draw the inevitable comparisons to The Fugees or Digable Planets, and while those comparisons would not be altogether unwarranted, it would still be unfair to dismiss SU as derivative. Sol Power is more of a celebration than a tribute and as such it deserves to be considered on its own. It is an honest, unpretentious document that is not inhibited by consideration for the musical trends of the day, or by the slick, over-production that is usually used to hide the flaws of groups of lesser caliber. Sol Power’s rugged, unpolished sound reveals the group’s strengths and leaves the listener undistracted and free to concentrate on the only two things that should matter: beats and rhymes.