Clear Soul Forces
Jeff Pearson, October 20, 2012
Listen: “Get No Better”
Basically from as soon as hip-hop came into existence, someone has been coming around claiming to be saving it. Thousands of emcees have been the self-proclaimed saviors of the game, breathing life into the dead—or at the very least dying, in their eyes—genre. Personally, I never bought it. Hip-hop has always seemed fine to me; I mean, it’s out there, it’s thriving, and it’s alive. I found myself saying the age-old adage of the hip-hop fan, “There’s good hip-hop out there. You just have to look for it.” I said these things, felt these things, even believed these things. That is, until I heard Clear Soul Forces. All along, those thousands of emcees were right. Hip-hop did need saving. It just wasn’t them that were there to do it. In fact, hip-hop needed saving from them, muddying the waters with their proclamations and distance from the essence of true hip-hop. And why should we have to look for the good hip-hop? Good music is supposed to find us, fall upon our ears at just the right time in our lives so as to impact us in a meaningful way. When I heard “Driving Down The Freeway” off of Clear Soul Forces’ 2010 mixtape Clear Soul Radio, I heard four young emcees staking their claim on the hip-hop world, spitting those same proclamations of musical resurrection but doing so in a way that felt less like empty verses on a tired theme and more like a group just doing what they do best. Instead of trying to breathe life into hip-hop, they were simply breathing their lives into hip-hop and asking the listener to come along. With their debut LP, Detroit Revolution(s), it sounds a lot less like asking, and a lot more like demanding.
The Detroit quartet fell into the music world by chance, in an encounter that producer/emcee Ilajide describes as akin to fate, where the friends had worked up enough money to afford a little studio time for their solo endeavors. Detroit legend Royce Da 5’9” happened to be in the same studio and Ilajide approached him to check out their music. Royce suggested that the chemistry he felt within the four emcees—Noveliss, E-Fav and L.A.Z. being the other three—was something special and perhaps they should pursue their hip-hop careers as a group. The four must have felt that same chemistry too; after a long night in the studio trading off bars for Royce, they emerged not as the separate emcees they entered, but as a singular entity, Clear Soul Forces. The fact that the group almost never happened is partly scary and partly comforting, that their gifts as individuals blended together in a way that gave them a great deal of power and purpose. Like J Dilla before them, they have a more global vision than the biting cold of Detroit, and perhaps as individuals they might not have been able to find warmth.
As a group, though, they shine. All throughout Detroit Revolution(s) is that undeniable chemistry that Royce surely felt that night in the studio, each member eloquently weaving their words together and playing off one another in a way that hasn’t been present in hip-hop for a long time. That rare connection is on display from the very start of the record; the Ilajide-produced “Welcome To The Show” introduces each of the group’s four emcees unique approaches to lyricism and flow, completely independent of one another and distinguished as individuals yet blending to make something wholly cohesive and fresh. This is perhaps Clear Soul Forces’ greatest attribute; they seem to feed off of one another and push each other to explore new areas with their approach to the music, and in doing so they push the group into territory that they occupy alone in the current age of hip-hop. It is a testament to the skills of each member of the group that there are no weak links and any given listen of Detroit Revolution(s) could yield a new favorite emcee.
Just on “Welcome To The Show” alone each of the emcees takes a short opportunity to introduce their lyrical nuances and flows; whether it’s Noveliss’ confident swagger (“Kitana blade sentences, made for the sixteen / Like a cartridge for Sega Genesis, resist us”), sounding like Jay-Z had played video games and basketball instead of sold cocaine, L.A.Z.’s overcoming of hardships in his deep and reformed lines (“Long awaited, we’re the rulers / Stop ‘em, we drop gems like clumsy jewelers”), Ilajide’s frenetically intense musings of a musical madman (“No job, no school, I’m foolish and quite primitive / My vision is to sample shit, vivid violinist, bitch”), or the happiness that E-Fav just can’t keep out of his voice “Firecracker, shit talker, make your bitch a funny walker / Flow steaming, two-twelve, this is just a bowl of water”), each verse carries with it their passion for the music they make and the unique approach each has to show that passion. Much like there is no weak link in the group, there is no weak link on Detroit Revolution(s). The album unfolds itself as a cohesive expression of the quartet as a singular artist, clever wordplay atop soulful, classic hip-hop beats.
Though Ilajide is the primary producer on the record, “Keep It Movin’” sees the group tearing apart a Nameless beat, and there are three KanKick beats as well. Detroit Revolution(s) cohesion doesn’t suffer at all; those beats sound just like an extension of Ilajide’s dusty, soul-sampling vinyl crackle that rich basslines weave throughout for the rest of the record. “Keep It Movin’” cultivates a backpacker vibe as video game coin collecting sound effects tumble from the top of the mix, while “Get No Better” and “Half As Long // Twice As Bright” have a very laid-back feel. Even a track like “Stack Yo Paypuh!¡!¡!” and “Ass To The Flo,” with concepts that could easily be given to more low-road lyrical tactics, see the group approaching the topic with their typical light-hearted and ironic wordplay. The record is such a refreshing take on hip-hop, not relying on theatrics or street-life aggression to convey their message; instead Clear Soul Forces allow their thoughts to manifest themselves in an eloquent and captivating way. They show an understanding that music is supposed to uplift the listener, and specifically with hip-hop, to stimulate the listener’s mind through deep lyrical messages. This is hip-hop in the truest form as we once knew it.
It’s quite remarkable that this record even exists. Not only because this is a group that never was meant to be, but because all odds seem to be against something like Detroit Revolution(s) existing as a new entity in 2012’s hip-hop landscape. Four emcees, chilled to the bone by Detroit’s cold weather, delivered one of the most positively sunny and enlightening hip-hop records in recent memory. In memory, period. Atop KanKick’s laid-back soul of “Get No Better,” as all four fourths of Clear Soul Forces say—seemingly to one another—“Let’s show the whole world what they can’t take from us,” in unison, it stands as one of the most poignant moments on the record. They have made a classic hip-hop record, instantly putting them among the greats of the genre and establishing them as musicians to be forever remembered, and that’s something that certainly will never be taken from them. Throughout hip-hop’s storied history, there have hardly been better saviors.
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