Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Potholes
There are moments as a Hip Hop listener where it pays off to be an avid listener of the genre. As the DIY independent music movement has grown in both numbers and ease of access, the genre of Hip Hop may be the most saturated. With this known, it’s not impossible to overlook the voluminous releases that pour out across the vast expanse of the Internet. Along with the many clunkers sure to be released, there exist several worthy gems. One such jewel is the self-titled collaborative LP between production duo Ill Mondo (JRK and Johnny Red) and solo MC Neal Rames. Funky production with plenty of live instrumentation pepper the tracks that the capable Neal Rames handle with ease; the melding of minds retains a purity somewhat missing in today’s climate.
The LP gets off to a start with “The Jump Off”, and the groovy track is an instant head-nodding romp. Neal Rames’ introductory verse sets the mood perfectly for the following tracks. The track features trombone work from Mike Rinta of the legendary band Tower of Power as well. “Rack 10” is an excellent track from Ill Mondo, with heavy bass lines and cleverly placed vocal samples. However, the star of the show is Neal Rames – with his confident rhymes, he carries the song to another level. “2 Fold” features the vocal talents of Percee P. While the Rhyme Inspector has enjoyed one a longstanding career in Hip Hop, Percy P’s appearance on this track lacks excitement. It isn’t a terrible performance but when compared to Neal Rames blistering verse, it pales considerably. “Freezer Burns” sounds like it was lifted from some B-Boy archive, with its rumbling bass and strong drums that recall the best of the soul from the 70s mixed with the fresh Hip Hop of the 90s. A short song, Neal Rames destroys the track again with his strong performance.
Another feature from the legendary Prince Po on “Scriptures” is baffling. Prince Po is no lyrical slouch, but alongside Neal Rames, he appears to be dialing it in. Perhaps this is a testament to the strength of Neal Rames’ verses, but one would think that Prince Po would be right in line with a relative newcomer. Ill Mondo’s smoky track sets a perfect mood nonetheless. “Natalie Moore” is one of the few missteps for Neal Rames. The dull, droning track has a serious theme but its somber tone just makes it a chore to enjoy. As the LP continues on, “Gold Rush” is a welcome departure from the straight-ahead groove present on much of the LP. The slow-paced track has Neal Rames playing with his rhyme style a bit and it’s an amicable pairing. Sean Price appears on “Suicide Doors”, a strong track from Ill Mondo bolsters the verses from the Duck Down captain and Neal Rames. However, Neal Rames’ performance nearly overshadows Sean Price’s excellent bars.
The album closes with “Pops Past”, an autobiographical tale from the MC. Ill Mondo’s track is fittingly atmospheric and Neal Rames openly discusses several key occurrences in him and his family’s life. Baring his soul in an almost painful fashion, the song highlights a humility that wasn’t present in the bulk of the boasting songs that precede it. Ill Mondo and Neal Rames should be applauded for making a record that retains a soulful, musical bent yet stays firmly rooted in Hip Hop’s core. This LP is one of the more pleasant surprises in 2009 to date.