We all want recognition for our work, whether we’d like to admit it or not. We want the stamps and the cosigns, and feel slighted if our efforts go unnoticed. Maybe that’s why Boston MC VICEVERSAH sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder on Shine Not Burn, an efficient album that aggressively tackles a range of topics–a sketchy childhood, a soldier’s tale of survival and the music industry’s misuse of hip-hop, among other things. Still, there’s VICE’s need to shine: “To the credit of critics who criticized/I am praised by some, but I’m never sympathized,” he raps on “Fill Your Tank Up”, a midtempo mixture of tapping drums, window-rattling bass and high-pitched hisses.
One would understand VICE’s urgency, given his checkered history. In 2002, he dropped out of New York University and released an EP that didn’t make waves, according to his biography. Since then,VICE has worked with fellow Boston native Edo G. and the legendary Kool G. Rap, among others. On Shine Not Burn, VICEVERSAH rhymes with heartfelt passion, even if his forceful delivery makes for a rough listen in certain spots. But where VICE falls short in lyrical deviation, he makes up for it in brutal, gut-wrenching honesty. The type of no-frills honesty that lets you know he’s serious about his craft.
It’s that honesty that allows the MC to repeatedly dismiss his naysayers. He writes for the peacemakers, VICE says on “Can’t Bump Without Us”, the album’s energetic guitar-laced opening track. That “I’m gonna make it” approach seems to set the tone for the project, as many of the songs tell full stories of self-perseverance or at least refer to his desire to keep rhyming for the right reasons. “Rhyme for the passion, not for the lights, camera, action,” VICE raps on the hook for “League Of The Pros”, which also chastises rappers who only discuss money on their songs. The activism eventually gives way to introspection on the inward-looking “Remember That Time”, a sparse drum and piano melody that finds VICE reflecting upon his volatile past. As an adolescent, the artist was unsure of himself but always knew he wanted to rock crowds. In college, VICE was addicted to drugs and not ready for fame, which might partially explain the limited success of his first project.
Sonically, Shine Not Burn seems hampered by the production at times. Not that the beats are bad, but they seem to clash somewhat against VICE’s enthusiastic vocal technique. “We Elevating”, for instance, sounds a little too pop for the MC’s apparent hip-hop aesthetic. However, it is still refreshing to hear an artist with something to say. If nothing else, VICEVERSAH has proven he’s not afraid to divulge his innermost thoughts — no matter how raw the subject. Throughout history, the best artists have been able to comfortably wear their emotions and paint intricate pictures of struggle and endurance. With Shine Not Burn, there’s plenty of color on the canvas, but VICE is still trying to illustrate his self-portrait. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
2.5 out of 5