Rating: 3 out of 5 Potholes
It is often the case that when a producer helms an entire album yet shuffles through a large roster of emcees, the result can at times come out scatterbrained and unfocused. Thankfully for Factor, on 13 Stories that is not the case. But this should come as no surprise. A quick listen through Factor’s discography, especially this summer’s superb Owl Hours with Awol One, will reveal consistency above all else. Factor uses his production to drive albums around distinct sonic qualities and themes.
On the surface, the most evident theme that encapsulates 13 Stories is, well, storytelling. At 13 tracks in length, each song is supposed to be a story within itself, and for the most part, the emcees stick to the script. After an underwhelming first track (unfortunate because its thesis of real hip-hop is somewhat undermined), things immediately pick up with the haunting “Don’t Jock The Dead” featuring Sole and Awol One, and “Batteries Not Included” featuring Onry Ozzborn of Oldominion fame. Both tracks let the emcees ride over Factor’s signature thick bass lines, and deep, layered melodies – a common trend over the course of the album. However the real treat comes in “Black Fantasia”, which spotlights Sunspot Jonz from the Living Legends crew. “Black Fantasia” operates on a dream-like science fiction level, yet Sunspot uses his verses to narrate stories about individuals in different walks of life and their plans to make a quick buck.
Things stall slightly around the body portion of the album, which is unfortunate because there is no true centerpiece for the album to balance on. In all fairness, Factor’s productions remain at worst, good. He sticks to what he does best, and claims this album as his, which is important because there is a cohesive feel, and the transitions from one track to the next are logical. The problem here lies largely in the hands of the emcees. It’s not that there is a poor selection of emcees – in fact quite the opposite. However, they all seem so intent on telling their little anecdotes that they sacrifice certain technical components of the rapping, such as complex rhyme schemes. Sure, many emcees bring interesting and engaging deliveries, which is important for keeping the listener attentive, but a slight lack in lyrical creativity leaves parts of this album dragging.
13 Stories is interesting in that the productions are more rooted in traditional hip-hop, and they are certainly not Factor’s most abstract by any means, yet the album remains challenging – in a good way. This is an album for listeners. Those who can pay attention and allow the imagery of the stories to take over, will inevitably get the most out of it. It requires thought and processing, and even after a few listens may still not feel quite concrete. But there is definite quality to be extracted from this album, and it is well worth the spins.