Album Review – Crown City Rockers - The Day After Forever (2009)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Potholes
One of the most rewarding things about hip-hop (and really all music genres) is the growing diversity of sub-genres and the new sounds and styles that are being introduced year after year. Many groups fall nicely into one or two sub-genres. Then there are groups such as The Foreign Exchange that refuse to be boxed in by any labels, and branch out, stealing from various genres and sub-genres left and right. Many times, the groups or artists who experiment with genre-bending, and do not confine themselves to one identity, find themselves at least making creative and interesting, if not highly successful music. However, there are those few groups who do not fit into identifiable sub-genres, but do so by accident, not intentionally. They seem to be a bit lost, in that they have no clear sense of direction. One such band is Crown City Rockers.
Formerly called Mission:, Crown City Rockers was formed in Boston at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, featuring Boston’s own Moe Pope, a slew of notable musicians, and two of the bay area’s finest, rapper Raashan Ahmad, and producer Headnodic. They dropped somewhat of an underground gem, One, and then they dropped Moe Pope and the Mission: tag, broke to the west coast and became Crown City Rockers. After some tracks came out on an EP, CCR finally released their highly anticipated debut (but by this point in their careers it could hardly be considered a debut), Earth Tones. It was a solid starting point, full of organic hip-hop sounds, live instrumentation, a heavy jazz and soul influence, and light lyrics. It was also an unfulfilled vision.
And here we are now, five years and numerous side/solo projects later, with CCR’s follow-up album, The Day After Forever. It picks up right where Earth Tones left off, with a bit more of a punch. They kick things off with dance groove after dance groove, so if you enjoy shaking your rump, then you will love this album. The live instrumentation once again is a key focus here. Fresh keyboards, jazzy horns, guitars, and a bottom-heavy bass boost the tracks to support emcee Raashan Ahmad. While this is a very commendable approach to hip-hop, the music falls short. With the exception of a few tracks, there is little that jumps out of the speakers to really grab the listener. The keys drone on, the guitars stay steady, and the drums – oh the drums! – let’s just say they leave a lot to be desired. In fact, when the drums do manage to boast some extra creativity, like on “Cruisin’”, everything comes together and sounds fantastic.
Finally we come to the issue that is Raashan Ahmad. He is without question a highly talented emcee with very important messages on his mind. His preaches love in all senses of the word and universal peace, and of course, appreciation for hip-hop and music. Therefore his foundations as a rapper are always admirable. However, after his work with Mission:, CCR, and a few solo projects under his belt, it seems he may be running somewhat short on lyrical content these days. Here, his wordplay fails to reach the standards he set for himself with his past work, and the topical content is a bit repetitive, going on about love, peace, hip-hop, and California, and it is at times just nonsensical and free-associative. Hearing him go on for a traditional three verses can seem a bit much especially if the lyrics are not advancing the song any further, so tracks where he receives a helping guest verse stand out as the strongest of the bunch (see “Clap Your Hands” featuring Aima, and the aforementioned “Cruisin’” featuring Destani Wolf).
The main reason this album falls short of what it could have been (yes, it had the potential to be immensely good) is that CCR didn’t identify where they ideally wanted to take this album. It’s almost comparable to People Under The Stairs – The Next Step, a very organic, loose alternative hip-hop album that lacked execution towards a central purpose. CCR here tries to steal from all sorts of alternative rap styles, from Digable Planets, to The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, and People Under The Stairs, and the result is somewhat of a bland mixture of all the above. However, like People Under The Stairs, it may just be a matter of time before Crown City Rockers matures into the force that their talent level indicates they can be one day. But until that day comes, we have The Day After Forever. Forecast: partly cloudy.