Artist: Q-UniqueTitle: Vengeance is MineRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Max Herman
"I've played the background for too long," aptly raps Q-Unique on his long-overdue solo debut, Vengeance Is Mine (Uncle Howie). While Q has gained fame across the globe as an MC/producer for the Arsonists and as a b-boy for the Rock Steady Crew, he has left his solo career on hold long enough to drive him mad. Thus, for the first time on wax, this multi-faceted hip-hopper unleashes unsettling stories of childhood anguish and racist record industry execs--quite a change of pace from his typically playful raps with the Arsonists. Now that Q-Unique has the stage to himself, the question is: can he hold it down? Well, usually.
Backed by the production of Ju Ju from the Beatnuts, Necro and himself, Q typically keeps a resentful demeanor here, which works wonders at some points and holds him back at others. While the Necro-produced "The Ugly Place" may be one of the less personal songs on the album, it stands as one of the strongest. With Necro's violin-laced head nodder and Q's fiery lyrical beat down, this is the perfect example of where his aggravation pays off. When it comes to songs like the sloppily delivered "H To The C," it's a different story. This attempted hardcore anthem, full of gun shot sound effects, is just unnecessary. Fortunately, passable moments like this are few.
When it comes to Q's personal tales of childhood pain, it's hard not to wonder how he held them in for all these years. From hearing about Q sleeping in a room where the dog "shit and pissed" ("Diamond in the Ruff") to him getting called a "spic" and having his life threatened by his stepfather ("The Set Up"), these harrowing tales raise ears. And Necro and Ju Ju do a pretty good job laying down the emotive backdrops.
While Q mostly keeps things solemn on his debut album, his work isn't inhibited to childhood memories and street anthems. In fact, the album's most unforeseen moment ("Psychological Warfare") is a genius look at how newscasts can use so-called terrorists threats to drive us into a nation beset by paranoia. At times like these, Q's potential to be a great, well-rounded soloist is as clear as day. A slight haze may cover this potential at some moments on Vengeance Is Mine, but in the end it prevails. Ultimately this potential is what will leave listeners anticipating an even stronger sophomore album on Q's next outing.