Monday, August 7, 2017

David and Goliath - The Scepter and the Sword

The King and the Giant

I fell in love with hip hop full-tilt in 1991.  It had been building up for a while by that point, but ’91 broke the dam.  I was in middle school, and when I heard “By the Time I Get To Arizona” for the first time, it pushed me over the edge into hip hop appreciation head first.  With Public Enemy as the sounding board, I then branched out, forwards and backwards, and across the map.  Ice T and Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Naughty By Nature.  Cypress Hill, Gangstarr, Digable Planets, the Native Tongues.  Artifacts, Boot Camp, Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep.  And each new tape I picked up just made me more excited to cop the next one.  Hip hop was vibrant, it was fresh and progressive, it was building and growing; each artist and producer had unique style, and identity, and crazy visions.  To my young ears the music was limitless.

There are things that happen with the passage of time, and with age:  Looking back on the landscape of my life, from the midway point of an almost 40-year-old, I see the gradual and inevitable shift I’ve taken from active participant to spectator.  I’ve moved away from the city and it’s frenetic creativity, my family and I now live in the woods, and I do my best to show my three young children those things I’ve discovered throughout my life, that I feel are important, and want to pass on.  I play them music whenever I can.  They've danced to Blowout Comb.  Inner City Griots and Project Blowed.  Kingdom Crumbs and Colored People's Time Machine.  Apocalypse ’91 has definitely still been on rotation… my crazy children know all of these albums.  And recently, I’ve introduced them to a new one I feel is more than worthy of inclusion in this elite group of classics:  David and Goliath’s The Scepter and the Sword.  

I’ve been fortunate to have been listening to this album in its various incarnations for a while now.  It’s inception began way back in 2013, when a particularly face-slapping track from rapper/producer Dawhud and rapper Ace-One caught the attention of the one and only DJ Premier.  The track, “Battle Anybody”, which got a lot of airplay on Primo’s “Live From HeadQCourterz” program, is a slouchinginly self-assured, boot-stomping show-stopper of a track, and acted as a catalyst for their creative energies as a duo.  By 2015 a full-length Dawhud and Ace-One (collectively known as David and Goliath) album was born: a raw, heavy-ass, two-headed monster of a record, with production handled by Dawhud and the Beatminerz.  Although Dawhud hails from the Pacific Northwest and Ace-One is from Indianapolis, this album was full-on Brooklyn, circa '95.  As Dawhud called it, a "Tims and baseball bat video" of an album.

This early version, although bearing some alternate universe-resemblance at times to the finished product, might as well be an entirely different album.  Dawhud is an all-but self-professed perfectionist, and with edits and re-edits, re-recordings and new material, The Scepter and the Sword continued to evolve.  Becoming more sonically and thematically cohesive, the album coalesced into one brilliantly coherent and confident; adding participants, spawning the aptly titled mixtape Something’s Coming, and eventually eschewing the Beatminerz tracks until a later release.  With Dawhud's intricate and full production featured exclusively, through trials and tribulations the album moved forward until its release in July 2017.  

And the product is sublime.  Look up the definition if you’re unsure of what it means exactly.  It's the perfect balance of craft and wild spontaneity, of humble artistry and classic hip hop bravado.  As a young kid, consuming tape after tape, chasing after each artist and each release, on through the 90’s and as an adult into the new century, The Scepter and the Sword stands out as a beacon; an album that remains true to the art while simultaneously advancing it. Here, in 2017.  

This album, and actually quite a few others in the last 12 months, have signaled a sea change in hip hop, a return to detailed, powerful production and dedicated lyricism.  But nothing I’ve heard yet has grabbed me like this.  To say it's solid, and full, and beautiful in its intricacy and depth, doesn't do the album justice.  It’s lean, no filler, no skits, no weak cuts, just a double lp's worth of beautifully crafted songs - each as satisfying a listen as the one that comes before.  There are heavy, HEAVY beats, the kind the push against your rib cage, and underneath them flow these incredible gems dug up from crates, of horn sections, vocal samples, pianos played like percussion instruments, and fuzzed-out basses.  Complimenting the music, Dawhud and Ace-One’s lyrics and raps are the best either have ever laid down.  Trading rhymes, alternating verses, and pulling out line after line of fresh new Rhythmic American Poetry, they easily stand aside peers (yes, PEERS) such as Masta Ace, Sadat X, and Rock from Heltah Skeltah (who all just so happen to appear on the album).

The Scepter and the Sword is a record that is years in the making, and only released in the last month, and is surely going to become more revered as time goes on.  It's an incredible achievement; it's the most exciting release I've heard in a long time, and gives me hope for a new revolution in hip hop.  Head over to Dawhud's site Illin' In the Basement or his Bandcamp site to pick up a copy (I copped the cassette-shaped USB drive, but the limited double Vinyl [with bonus tracks] is truly a thing of beauty). Black wax is available through Fat Beats.  Listen, dance to it like my children do, and be excited for the future!

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