Rating: 4 out of 5 Potholes
It’s been almost a decade since Moka Only first introduced us to Ron Contour (2001’s Moka Only is Ron Contour) – and since then a lot has changed for both artists. For one, Ron Contour has released three full lengths, while Moka (always prolific) has released 22 solo projects and eight collabos in that span. And, of course, there’s the issue of Contour’s identity. While some say he’s a distant cousin of Moka Only, Ron prefers to keep people guessing.
During promotion for The Summer of Ron (2009), the artist made it perfectly clear: Ron Contour doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him. He knows where he stands in the midst of today’s shaky music industry climate. Ron Contour has worked too hard and too long to care about the mundane details that plague so many of hip hop’s A- and B-listers. Ron Con is a proud C-lister.
With the release of Saffron, Ron Con is a C-lister no more (if he ever truly was). This time around, Contour raps over production from Factor (after three albums with Moka Only on the boards) – and it’s clear, from the outset, that the two have chemistry.
“Check it Out” is the de facto introduction cut, where Ron delivers his stream of consciousness flow over a mellow Factor beat that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of Ron’s earlier efforts. The MC channels his relationship with Moka and addresses his prolific musical output (missed a day on the mic and got back logged) and introduces Factor on the drums. “Diner” serves up a harder hitting beat, with a touch of guitar, and it’s clear that the distinct production energizes Ron (Rough, rugged and raw like McGruff the dog/Ron Con tell you I’m swimming through the fog/ Get off my log). “Confused Nougat” makes use of a vocal sample and is, in essence, a statement of Ron Contour’s MC credo – or, alternately, as the sample suggests, confusion is what Ron’s feeling.
“Glad”, the album’s lead single, is a mellow offering that details the good times to be had on the road – and the beat fit Ron’s raps like a glove. (And peep the video on Potholes as well) It’s clear throughout the album that Ron Con is a hip hop fan – and he shouts out 3rd Bass (Steppin’ to the A.M./Peter Nash and Michael Berrin/Look we causin’ mayhem) over the uptempo, flute-featured “Whipple Tree”.
Factor’s production on “Prairie Wind” is nothing short of breathtaking. The beat is almost cinematic in composition – and Ron follows suit by lyrically painting a picture: his skills take him all over the place, but he always ends up at home in the west. “Wondrous” features another hip-hop reference (this time to A Tribe Called Quest), another vocal sample (wondrous things to be seen and be done) and, of course, another installment of Ron’s stream of consciousness flow. And it all works.
It all comes together for both MC and producer on “I Only Know”. The combination of vocal sample, hand claps and scratching meshes perfectly with Ron’s focused flow (In the flat land, my rap ran rampant/Simple just to take your weak style and cramp it) – and the result is a banger. “Cheese Toast Feast” makes it back-to-back bangers. The production is slick and the title suits just what the track is (Ron unloading lyrically with intermittent references to food and drink).
Factor offers Ron another cinematic production that calls to mind Japanese film, and music, on “Goes to JP”. The MC shouts out virtually his entire crew in the song – and, not surprisingly, he runs with the same folks as Moka Only. Coincidence?
“Hop Scotch” and “Shoe Box (with Def 3)” close out the album – and both tracks are appropriately named and very hot. The former is funky right from start and it showcases an MC in top form (B.C. is my turf/Greasy as a NERF ball dipped in preserves/Ship the reserve stock of the Preferred Stock/Nerves pop off like the pins in Master locks), who is complimented by a beast of a beat – and the closest thing to a hook on the album. “Shoe Box” will remind listeners of Moka’s 2007 collabo album (Dog River) with Def 3 – and that’s a very good thing. Ron’s only guest drops a reference to Pharoahe Monch and both MCs acknowledge the difficulty of life inside a shoe box (although it’s clear that the box is merely a metaphor). Meanwhile, Factor’s beat combines another guitar with heavy drums – and, again, it definitely works.
It takes only 12 tracks, and less than 30 minutes, for Saffron to move both Ron Contour and Factor up to the A-list. Moka would definitely approve – and so should his fans.