Artist: MaroonsTitle: AmbushRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman
As Quannum heads anxiously begin their 6-month countdown for the new Blackalicious album, they hopefully will not overlook the release of Ambush (Quannum), the ambitious and innovative debut from Maroons AKA Latyrx’s Lateef the Truth Speaker and Blackalicious’ DJ Chief Xcel. A precursor to next year’s release of the full-length Ashe, this mini-LP fuses some of Xcel’s rawest, dirtiest beats with the emotionally-and politically-charged lyrics of Lateef, resulting in a debut where originality is top priority.
While Xcel’s diverse beatmaking ability ranges from the smooth, haunting “Beautiful You” to the battle-ready harshness of “Lester Hayes” (Appropriately named after the hard-hitting cornerback for the Oakland Raiders), Blackalicious fans may be surprised by how rough he can get. Regardless of tone, his gift for combining the synthetic with the live shines on virtually every track. “Matter of Time” perfectly matches Lateef’s rough delivery with clashing electric guitars, while “Don’t Stop” gets pushed along with a nod-inducing live funk bassline and flute notes that float quickly over the beat.
What’s remarkable about Ambush is how well Lateef’s flow and Xcel’s beats play off each other, making it evident they’ve known and worked with each other for over a decade. Any questions about Lateef’s talent and versatility should be put to rest here, as the Truth Speaker seamlessly goes from half-rapping/half-singing his flow to grimy battle rhyming and all points in between.
Standing out lyrically, however, is “If,” a scathing indictment of big business and U.S. foreign policy told through a series of hypothetical what-ifs. Anchored by Xcel’s eerie, paranoiac synth on the chorus (mirroring Lateef’s insecurity and fear), the song criticizes perceived iniquities with the U.S. government, but also offers an alternative to “the path to self-destruction” Lateef foresees. “’If’ can be a positive future rendition/’If’ can be world war, death and extinction.” Either outcome, he claims, will be a product of man’s future decisions. Anyone championing Jadakiss as political provocateur for two lines in “Why” should be copping this.
On “Matter of Time,” Lateef sums up the whole Maroons mantra when he rhymes, “There’s always the chance of creating something transcendent/Some things last forever like the Ten Commandments.” While that might be a stretch, the creativity of this duo ensures that each song has a timeless quality that should have people checking for them well into the future.