gangrene-vodka-ayahuasca_web

Artist: Gangrene (The Alchemist + Oh No)

Album: Vodka & Ayahuasca

Label: Decon

Date: 1/24/2012

Never in my entire career as a music reviewer have I come across an album title more intriguing and more esoteric than Vodka & Ayahuasca.  For those who have little to no clue what the hell ayahuasca is, no worries.  As far as the album is concern, all you need to know is that The Alchemist and Oh No mysteriously conjured up this ancient brew from South America, combined it into a powerful cocktail with vodka, and dumped it into your phonographs to create a psychedelic, spiritual journey for listening pleasure. Whether that makes sense to you or whether you’re convinced vodka and spirituality belongs in the same sentence, again, no worries.  All will be explained.

In comparison to their last album Gutter Water, the production is grittier, grimier, and trippier than ever.  Although the album begins with the very forgettable cut “Gladiator Music,” which sounds more like a throwaway G. Rap cut than a Gangrene jam, Alchemist and Oh No amplify the heat until thermostats melt with their next track, “Flame Thrower.”   The instrumental, ironically, is icier and groovier in its tone than the title suggests, but in culmination with Al’s and Oh No’s poignant, plasma radiant verses, the track is a certified banger.  An obvious album highlight is their lead single “Vodka and Ayahuasca.”  Rumbling bass lines, dizzying scratches, and undulating guitar strings make this cut a head knocking sensation.  When the lead guitar crescendos into psychotropic madness, so too, does Gangrene when hammering the nail on the head with their “acid trip” rap lyrics.  Other stand outs from the album include “Drink It Up” featuring Roc Marciano and “Dump Truck” featuring Prodigy.  The real standout on this album, however, is “The Groove,” and Gangrene couldn’t have picked a better name for the record. The production is thick with booming bass, cascading piano patterns, and hallucinogenic, chopped samples, and it is arguably the most leading instrumentation that Oh No produced for the album.  To no surprise, the rap duo lyrically ups the ante with perhaps some of the sharpest lyricism fans may have heard yet from either two. Oh No swan dives first into the maelstrom he created throwing a few darts at the critics with lyrics like “hypnotize, criticize, but we get paper, critics lie, no surprise, they get no favors, it’s no surprise, we can rise major majority rules in the game, they cannot fade us!”  Afterward, The Alchemist closes the track with lyrical jujitsu and folds his adversaries into “spar submission.”

Although minuscule, there are a few cuts that slow the pace of the album.  In “Livers for Sale,” for example, Alchemist flies solo but unfortunately his verse fails to soar. Fortunately for listeners the track is brief, and while Al isn’t spewing garbage, hearing him tackle an entire track sounds awkward. “Dark Shades” featuring Evidence also scores points in the uninspired category, and while many probably would have expected a riveting verse from Evidence, he fails to live up to the expectation. Probably the most disappointing track on the album, however, is “Top Instructors.”  In terms of production, it’s by far the most monotonous and most trite track on the entire album.  Even Gangrene’s live wire flow couldn’t jump this dronish and boring track back to life.

Despite these blunders, Vodka & Ayahuasca is still a solid project that’ll probably end up being championed by die hard fans.   After listening to the entire album, you’ll realize that the album couldn’t have been more appropriately titled considering the chemistry between Oh No and The Alchemist.   The combined forces of the deadly duo will definitely have you laying in fetal position next to your speakers, and if the vibrant rumblings start sounding like a mystical shaman humming, you’re headed in the right direction. For Gangrene die hards, this is definitely an album worth adding to the collection and it will probably end up being celebrated in a majority of underground circles. However, due to the lack of promotion (they only have one official music video) and their heavy footing in the indie circuit, Gangrene surely won’t be making a dent on mainstream audiences anytime soon, and they likely wouldn’t have it any other way. Needless to say, Vodka & Ayahuasca is a joy ride that continues to get better from start to finish, especially while under the influence.

 Purchase Vodka & Ayahuasca on iTunes

After the disappointment of Universal Mind Control, many assumed that Common’s long 18-year career was finally reaching its death kneel.  With Be serving as both a double edged sword and the pinnacle of his career (many newer fans still believe that’s his first album), Common had to prove once again to the ADHD crowd that he’s no typical emcee, despite what his moniker may suggest.  However, as hip-hop’s most familiar underdog, being slept-on after tracking into experimental territory isn’t anything new to Com or his fans.   Certainly The Dreamer, Believer  is no Be, but it’s definitely a strong follow-up after going through a musical dry spell.

Common begins the album strongly with “The Dreamer.”  Unfortunately, his intro is so powerful that you may want to press fast-forward through “Ghetto Dreams” “Blue Sky” and the controversial and subliminal  single “Sweet” just to press rewind.  “Gold,” however, picks up where “The Dreamer” left off.  As the name implies, “Gold” instrumentally, is like an Amazonian wonderland.  As the track begins strongly with rich and soulful instrumentations, Com asserts himself as a leader of the hip-hop generation with lyrics like, “I’m the voice of the meek and under privileged, the smell of success I want ya’ll to get a whiff of this.” He also drops a dose of clever free associative with lyrics like,  ”My dad said it rained on my arrival, now the storm of the brain make these guys drive slow…

Although he’s not “la la laaing” on any record, Com does touch on “soft” subject matters like being a one-woman man.  On “Cloth,” for example, Common bears his heart to his potential wifey-to-be with lyrics like, “anything we can bear, so lets have some cubs” and “hey lover, we can cover each other, through the coldest night, tight, never smothered, it’s two things that hold us together, God is our tailor, and forever.” “Windows” is arguably the most introspective song on the album. Here, Common tackles the reclusiveness women experience after being hurt by lustful men.  He goes further into their dilemma by starting at the root of their problem by reflecting through the eyes of his daughter with insightful lyrics like, “A lot of girls without, they become needy, come on dad, I’m too old for the backseat, can you come and get me, are you coming to my track meet, as she begins to the race of life and love I told her, I can’t run it for ya, God knows I’ma coach ya.”

In general, there aren’t any really weak cuts on the album. Whether he’s feeling cinematic in tracks such as “Lovin I Lost,” enjoying life on “Celebrate,” or pummeling sucka emcees on tracks like “Raw (How You Like It),” Common delivers.  However, if there’s one song on the album that feels misplaced on the album it would be “Sweet.”  Hearing Com transforming into a belligerent and overly aggressive emcee is borderline hilarious due to the fact it just doesn’t fit Com’s collective persona. Even his venomous diss track “The B*tch in Yoo,” doesn’t have a trace of this Dwayne Gittens persona that Com has now assumed.  Don’t get me wrong.  “Sweet” does make a good point of pointing out cotton candy rappers and it guaranteed a head nod, but it’s just doesn’t sound believable.

In addition to “Sweet,” the only thing keeping the album from being as great as Be are his other two singles “Ghetto Dreams” and “Blue Sky.”  They don’t damage the continuity of the album, but in comparison to the rest of the album, they just don’t hold up. Had Common added them as bonus tracks or reduced the album to ten tracks, The Dreamer may have been as great or greater than Be. However, with Universal Mind Control being Com’s strongest debacle to date, who’s complaining?  Besides, seeing Common and No I.D. reunite on an album after 14 years is marvelous, and together they master crafted one of the strongest albums to come out this year. So after listening to this album, will Com make you a believer?  Mos’ definitely.

Purchase The Dreamer, The Believer on iTunes

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