Artist: Planet AsiaTitle: Jewelry Box Sessions, Pt. 1 (Mixtape)Rating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Conan Milne
Frustrating. If ever there was a word that better describes California native Planet Asia’s skill behind the microphone, I’ve yet to encounter it. A versatile MC who has paid his dues through years of grinding both as a solo artist and as one half of the gifted duo ‘Cali Agents’, Asia often displays brief glimpses of brilliance among projects littered with mediocrity. His latest effort Jewelry Box Sessions, Pt. 1 (Gold Chain Music) is, unfortunately, no different.
The mixtape (or mix CD as he would put it) starts promisingly enough with the aggressive “Bank Statements” that sees the rapper flow effortlessly over the dark instrumental. “Sucker MC’s”, meanwhile, may flaunt an obviously lacking chorus, but P.A. serves up some insightful lyrics: ”Ni–as say I rap harder, more gangsta/ Nah, I just got more harder/I mean a whole lot of holding out”.
However, the quality of the music soon descends. The beat utilized on “Get This Money” is not only sparse, but Asia’s lyrics, set in “baller” mode, sound forced. The rapper is clearly at his best when he shares the spotlight with his talented peers, such as on “Gun Church Part 3”, which sees him swap rhymes alongside Strong Arm Steady member Phil The Agony over a thumping backdrop. Here, Asia isn’t trying to achieve crossover appeal by simplifying his rhymes – he simply drops undiluted battle verses that highlight his many strengths. Despite this plus, the release still features several minuses such as the clunky “Wonderwoman” or the dubious pimpin’ of “En Vogue”.
The inconsistencies in the quality of Planet Asia’s output are probably a result of his understandable desire to achieve mainstream recognition. How else do you explain the lackluster sounds of tracks like “Its All Big” taken from his official debut album The Grand Opening? Compared to magnificent Hip-hop cuts like “Right Or Wrong” Asia’s watered down efforts go from lackluster to relative abominations.
Jewelry Box Sessions is proof that Asia has retained this desire to make it big in the world of major labels. On several tracks he spits hollow verses that are suited to some of the West Coast’s commercial heavyweights. The lyrics of the aforementioned “En Vogue”, for example, would be right at home in Snoop’s rhyme book. Like his East Coast counterpart Talib Kweli (whom, incidentally, shows up on this mix’s “Freestyle”) Asia has yet to unleash a release that completely reflects his undeniable potential.