Album Review: The Left – Gas Mask

The Left – Gas Mask
Mello Music Group: 2010

In an Internet-driven music culture, not much can sneak up on listeners. Between “leaks,” previews and the sheer number of online reviews/resources available to music fans, there aren’t many mysteries on Tuesdays in 2010. Gas Mask, the debut release from The Left (producer Apollo Brown, emcee Journalist 103 and DJ Soko) is definitely a product of that environment – with a twist. The album has blazed up the ‘net, with blogs posting reviews of advance copies and many proclaiming Gas Mask as the best release of the year, if not the decade. The fact that there were no leaks, no available downloads and no apparent bootlegging only added to the album’s mystique.

On October 26, the Internet sensation was released to the masses – and it was most certainly worth the wait.

The opening track, the aptly named “Change”, sets the tone for the rest of the album. An almost bluesy vocal sample eventually gives way to a pounding beat and Soko’s incredible work on the 1s and 2s. By the time the album’s title track kicks in, the listener is hooked by the combination of another soulful vocal sample, pounding drums and horns that would make Pete Rock smile. Then Journalist 103 joins the fray. His aggressive flow matches the track’s pace and atmosphere, while his lyrics, dealing with the current state of hip-hop, bring the song to that next level.

Not content to rest on their laurels, The Left invite the legendary Kool G Rap to join them on the very next track, “Frozen”. Apollo Brown steps up the aggression on the production tip, with a track that sounds like the very best of the Golden Era – without sounding dated. Both Journalist and G Rap sound natural on the track and both turn in outstanding vocal performances. It’s definitely a track that will have you hitting rewind.

Kool G Rap’s inclusion on the album is appropriate, as Apollo Brown’s production seems to draw on the finest our genre has to offer, from the Golden Era to today: the aforementioned horns that would make the Chocolate Boy Wonder proud; bass lines influenced by the work of his fellow Detroit producer J. Dilla; strings that Premier himself would go crazy for; and hard hitting drums that Marley Marl would most certainly appreciate and recognize.

Gas Mask is also very clearly influenced by The Left’s surroundings. This is a Detroit record: full of grit, yet still very soulful – appropriate for Motown. Journalist 103 matches the mood of the album’s production with lyrics that capture his city. On “Real Detroit”, featuring Marv Won (previously released on Apollo Brown’s The Reset, but with different production here), the two MCs offer listeners a glimpse of their city and Apollo Brown serves up a foreboding track to match the lyrics. The Motor City is also the subject on “Reporting Live” featuring Guilty Simpson – and the track is an absolute banger (I’m sensing a theme here) that sheds more light on the development of some of hip-hop’s finest.

Although the album is clearly influenced by Detroit, the city isn’t the only topic on Gas Mask. Journalist offers up personal narratives about his journey to the microphone (“Desperation”), a love song that doesn’t give in to conventional metaphors and clichés (“The Melody”), a tribute to those who have influenced him along the way (“Homage” featuring Frank West) and, of course, an ode to the death of wack MCs (“The Funeral”).

Gas Mask is 17 tracks of pure hip-hop. No filler. No fluff. The album’s guests, including those previously mentioned, as well as Paradime, Finale, Mu, Invincible and Hassaan Mackey, only add to the dopeness. When you consider the praise heaped on this album prior to its release, and the fact that it delivers, and exceeds the accompanying high expectations from listeners, The Left’s debut elevates into rarified air. While the “C” word is often thrown around, Gas Mask certainly deserves the label – and looks good wearing it.


5 out of 5
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17 thoughts on “Album Review: The Left – Gas Mask

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  1. Nicholas Candiotto|

    @Nathan Wear your hip hop veteran badge with pride. I cannot imagine when this album won’t be in my regular rotation.

    @bailey Couldn’t have said it any better. This is simply dope – regardless of release date.

  2. Yes. Hip-hop lives. Good beats with good MCing. I am glad to see there are still artists making real hip-hop.
    I am so sick of pop music being passed off as hip-hop (Lil Wayne, Drake, TI, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, even B.o.B.).
    I know hip-hop is out there, it is just getting hard to find because so much pop is being labelled hip-hop that you now have to weed through the crap to find the gems.
    But maybe I am too old and I just don’t understand this new “hip-hop”.

  3. Peter Klavin|

    I personally think best alblum of all time most underrated group of all time i still remember when i stummbled apon this alblum just in shick showd my buddis its all we bang now

  4. Great album, just copped it today because of this review. Can’t wait to hear more from Apollo in the future.

  5. been playing the album for a year straight before releasing it. all i can say is that it’s still in heavy rotation.

  6. the album is fire but you’ve already heard this and i don’t even want to start with the usual spoutin off like my opinion is the final testament on shit so i’ll just say this …

    thank you for taking this hip-hop shit seriously.

    it’s not about recapturing a bygone era … there’s just something about chopped samples, hard drums, and real rhymes that will never be replaced no matter how much the industry wants fans and artists to forget. and A.B. seems to know how to do it right

    and damn that cover is dope

  7. How Kool G Rap’s voice and flow fits to that Frozen track… amazing!

  8. Will agree album is definitely one of the best of the year

  9. I just listened to this album front to back and I’m having flashbacks to ‘in the ruff.’ More consistent than that album, and definitely a superb release. However, hip hop heads seem to get over excited about traditional boom bap and throw out ‘classic’ nearly every time a solid boom bap album drops. Only time will tell if this is in fact classic and holds up over time. I suspect it will but there is one measure that this album falls short on that keeps it from being a personal classic: originality. This sound has been perfected many times over by rae, ghost, mobb deep, Sean price, black milk etc. And while I will always love and buy albums that faithfully recapture a bygone era, these albums will never excite me like the first time I heard ‘only built for Cuban linx’ so will function mostly as exercises in nostalgia for me.

  10. Production…on point.
    This was a pleasant surprise. I could’nt agree with the review more.
    Real ish!

    Support real hip-hop.

  11. dope. i’m glad someone feels the way i do about this album – flawless. much appreciation to Potholes for listening!

  12. great album, the beats are mindblowing.

  13. Lyrically and sonically everything fits with this album. Def one of the best this year.

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