Eprhyme Dopestylevsky

[K ; 2011]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: conscious hip-hop, klezmer, old-skool
Others: Matisyahu, Diwon, Beastie Boys

Eprhyme, K Records’ first hip-hop signing in 10 years, is back with his second album, Dopestylevsky. The release is a welcomed departure from the experimental/indie roster that had filed through the offices of Calvin Johnson’s label in times past. True to K’s modest fanfare, Eprhyme is not an indie crossover compromise, but someone who un-self-consciously celebrates hip-hop. He’s adept at coming up with sparky rhymes, such as one that contrasts “reeboks” and “the book of Enoch” (my favorite, from the first album, Waywordwonderwill), but he doesn’t toss out these comparisons without attending to their value as far as his message is concerned. He has important things to say about being a follower of both religion and music, and he’s adamant that there shouldn’t be any conflict between the two.

As a result, Dopestylevsky seems less concerned with tweaking genres than with showing how differing traditions can be respected and honored in an unusual way. This spurs Eprhyme to express insights from Islam alongside his own Neo-Hasidic spirituality, and instead of operating on the fringes in fear that the mainstream might disapprove, he can be found in synagogues across the land, preaching his message of inclusiveness to the people. (His openly good intentions seem to have impressed sections of the Jewish press.) As for his other obsession, hip-hop, he criticizes the message, not the medium. In “Life Sentence,” for example, ominous choirs and grating sneaker-against-hospital-floor synths recall the Darwinian seriousness of 90s LA rap, but this solipsism is waved away by Eprhyme’s “Let’s skip this whole Hamlet skit” and his appeal to the “still small voice” — the least macho manifestation of God in the Torah.

In “Poppasong,” he humorously weaves his own autobiography with the biography of hip-hop — from Herbie Hancock to the Fresh Prince, to hip hop’s later years in a studio apartment when the “hipsters came by to get musical.” It’s as if Eprhyme sees his chosen form of musical expression as a problem child that grew into a committed evangelist. He seems to genuinely believe in the spirit of his music as much as he believes in his religious affirmations.

On the album’s weaker moments, however, we’re left with either/or: a lecture about homespun spirituality or an uncritical imitation of some fairly jaded hip-hop forms. “Let’s Build,” for example, has an inspirational chorus urging MCs to “get fresh!” with “local organic production,” and to cultivate a “hip-hop permaculture.” There’s more to this than meets the eye, though, as Eprhyme makes an interesting comparison between pessimistic attitudes about the future and attitudes about art that say “it’s all been done before.” The message seems to be that musical recycling is as necessary a process as physical recycling. That’s fair enough, but it comes slogan-heavy and unnecessarily relies on the principle that student-hostel-friendly reggae will carry the message. If we’re in the business of defending Mother Nature, it seems unfair to assume that she/he/it necessarily has dreadlocks and likes reggae and lives in student hostels (although as a person, she might well hang down with the freaks). A few tracks later, “Lose Your Cool” has an auto-tuned chorus, and a clubby, aluminum wrapped futuristic sound that — bizarrely — resembles The Lonely Island.

Still, apart from the odd moment where Eprhyme overplays his fondness for religious and hip-hop clichés, his instincts are mostly good. He delves into old-skool tropes, from scratchy records, to synth choirs, to tight, forthright speedy delivery and metronomic beats. On the other end of the scale, the opener “Grind Thoroughly” is without beats of any kind; the slowed-down strings and harpsichord further slow down Eprhyme’s delivery, and all the rhymes are “-ations,” as if that clichéd Latin suffix is a kind of enzyme, helping us process what’s coming. Likewise, shepherdic singing and Jewish instrumentation crop up quite organically, whenever it is necessary to break with the standard beats & rhymes and reflect, as on “Better in the Dark.” Here, klezmer and meditations gently defy an opening reel of accepted truths about a mechanistic, meaningless universe: a 90s hip-hop universe, in fact, of guns and drugs and girls.

Overall, Dopestylevsky signifies a hardworking album that attempts, strenuously, to reconcile the conflict of religion: to be in the world, but not of it. Eprhyme’s affection for the ages of hip-hop is swept up in the means of resolving these tensions, and “styles upon styles upon styles” are intertwined, as if he’s reminding us once again that “It’s all God” (a Jewish phrase that appears on the first album). His inclusiveness doesn’t represent a new hybrid, but an attempt to get back to the basics of what he believes it’s all about. Seemingly, it’s about honesty and proclaiming one’s truth, a truth that is wrought from experience and the unique voice that is available to anyone regardless of their education (see “Elements of Style”). Dopestylevsky is all about moving hip-hop to both an academic level of fixation and an inspirational (yes, it had to be said) level of enthusiasm. This makes it a solid album of consciousness-raising Jewish hip-hop, not an exercise in genre-bending; so we can believe the hype, and take it that this well-heeled genre has finally arrived chez K.

Links: Eprhyme - K

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