Planet Asia is the owner of many titles at this point in his career: legendary West Coast artist, pioneering underground emcee, mixtape king and member of The Skhool Yard and Cali agents. Now, with the release of his tenth album you can add ‘officially accomplished recorded musician’ to his list of achievements. He’s been on the grind in the music industry since 1996. Asia (a.k.a: Jason Green) has amassed tons of critical acclaim via nine previous albums and countless mixtapes. After a three year hiatus from recording, Asia brings us Black Belt Theatre, his personal foray into the “concept album.”
He based the album around the theme of his favorite Saturday morning cartoon and adoration of Kung Fu flicks from his childhood. Black Belt Theatre stays true to its theatrical theme, complete with featured guests, karate-themed tracks and more. However, while the lyrical aspect and concept behind this album is solid and creative, the only issue with this album is the overuse of soul-heavy, fruity loop-based beats that detract from King Medallions’s (usually) glorious storytelling.
There are plenty of quality hip-hop moments throughout this project, like the Oh-No produced tracks “No Apologies” and “Stay Ready” with Raekwon and the wonderfully themed track “Bruce Lee“. However, it truly is the production behind the project that fails to capture my attention. In short, while nothing is lacking lyrically on this album (although I think I’ve grown weary the heavy story lines detailing West Coast gang culture; I grew up in it) the beats on this project can be a bit boring and mundane at times. Perhaps the best word to use is dated. Planet Asia is somewhat intriguing on this album. The production, however, is not.
While still lyrically relevant on every level, I’m incredibly eager to hear Planet Asia update his production style and try some new sounds to deliver his rhymes to. Yes, it is possible to do this without selling out or losing yourself in the process, but few artists have managed this delicate balance between updating their sound and not losing their own artistic integrity. It’s not an easy thing to do, I know, and it might be even harder to do when you’re out of the studio for almost four years. Nevertheless, Black Belt Theatre is a decent album with some great hip-hop lyricism that you should probably check out for yourself.