The Soul Project—the 13-track debut collaboration from Introspective, a Seattle emcee (and Garfield High grad) and Portland-based producer Lawz Spoken—employs a familiar Pacific Northwest sound: laconic, somnolent beats bounding behind Intro’s soulful bass. At first, the duo’s style may appear to follow the popular form pioneered by Blue Scholars and Common Market, but a closer listen reveals an achievement the bigger names have yet to accomplish: a hip-hop album of the darkly, even painfully, personal.
Born and bred on the peak of Beacon Hill / Breathe the rarified air, speaking what I feel, Introspective introduces himself on “Emerald Star.” These streets conceal a lot of jagged little pills. The song, a familiar urban chronicle of cops stop[ping] to seize small drug money off a minority, and a homeless man tak[ing] a piss behind a dumpster, culminates with an unexpected admission of voyeuristic non-participation: and I watch it unfold through my window. In a genre that puts an emphasis on boasting and “street creed,” this is a startlingly honest moment. There is little swagger or heroism (or even anti-heroism) in Introspective’s lyrics. As he raps on “Death of a Superman,” I’m only Clark Kent when I’m on the microphone…the perfect fusion of comic books and TV/ Yeah, I don’t believe me either / But everybody wants a superman to light the night up.
Nowhere on the Soul Project is the falsified braggadocio that afflicts much of the mainstream. Thankfully, the clichéd consciousness that so often hinders the underground doesn’t really make an appearance here either.
Instead, the album reveals a near epical battle between the creative individual and his demons. Sing your song, do your dance, he sings on the triumphal “Beautiful Music,” whatever you need to do…before the demons come back ready to devour, and The essence of creation is definitely God-given / and for me, man, it’s the purpose of life.
Even on tracks where Introspective broadens the scope, such as “Elevator Music,” he manages to bring it back to the personal: There’s disease, famine, strife and world hunger / Pain, racism, death in large numbers…There’s rapists, thieves, serial killers / Politicians, false prophets, adolescent drug dealers / When your life’s a nightmare you learn to cherish your sleep / Everybody’s got demons, some just got more teeth. Where other artists may have hovered in more general, less effective climes, Introspective uses these personal recognitions as a poetic springboard into the universal. I could make the song cry, but I would cry with it, he raps on the same track, reprising Jay-Z. I put myself into the music, not afraid to die with it.
Ultimately the portrait that emerges from this album is a man of unerring faith. The Bible’s influence appears in “Shades of Blue,” an oddly apocalyptic tale laid over a gorgeous, simmering melody. And the sky fell into the earth and everybody ran / Nightmares confirmed with a wave of a hand / Those that disbelieved tried to make a stand / Unable to see this was the end of their plan. But the disbelievers aren’t the only ones who suffer the immensity of God’s wrath; the righteous praying beneath looked up and were crushed by the falling debris.
The most affecting of the religious-themed tracks is “Sartor Resartus,” a reference to the nineteenth-century philosophical tract by Thomas Carlyle about awakening through suffering. The song deals with the loss of a woman, an “angel,” and the ensuing suffering that tests his faith: I’m weak and not really sure if I believe / The hatred for myself seems to be all I see / I’m infected with a skeptic’s disorder of thought / Thinking death has better rest than the alternative’s got. Ultimately the speaker comes to the realization that God’s brain is bigger than mine, and that although this life gets harder everyday / truth be told I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Soul Project’s themes are somber ones: unrequited love, depression, self-loathing. But beneath the pessimism simmers the sweeter, ultimately redemptive quality of faith—in God, love and, most of all, music. In this, a surprisingly assured debut album, Introspective portrays himself as an artist of shaken yet resilient faith; both an ineluctable citizen of humanity and an artist morosely aloof.
The album also features two verses by Portland-based emcee HYPERLINK “http://MR.MR” t “_blank” MR.MR, Introspective’s partner from the duo Gray Matters. The majority of the tracks were produced by Lawz Spoken, however Skwirm of Soul Mechanix produced “Emerald Star” and Piotrek Migula produced “Daybreak” and “Good Question.” Migula also served as main sound engineer and is given much credit by the group for resurrecting the project from near-fatal post-production problems two years ago.
HYPERLINK “http://cdbaby.com/cd/lsi” t “_blank” http://cdbaby.com/cd/lsi (CD Baby link)
HYPERLINK “http://www.myspace.com/shintarokatsu” t “_blank” http://www.myspace.com/shintarokatsu (My Space home page for Gray Matters and Introspective)
HYPERLINK “http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playListId=261994611″ t “_blank” http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewAlbum?playListId=261994611 (I Tunes store link)