Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O.
Recently I was talking to one of my students at school about hip-hop. She loves hip-hop, so we were talking about what we loved about it. I told her one of my favorite elements of hip-hop is that it is art. She kind of gave me the side eye at the word “art” but I spent some time trying to explain to her the art form behind hip-hop. We talked about the creativity necessary for good production, how it can elicit different emotions, how adding a simple sound in the perfect spot can elevate a track, and how the production marries with the artist. The precision that is necessary to be a great emcee. We talked about rhyme patterns, poetry and figurative language.
This conversation really brought me back to the roots of my love for hip-hop. Sometimes with innovation and progression, the core of your love can be lost. That is a constant challenge that hip-hop is faced with. How do you progress without losing yourself in the process? Currently in the landscape of hip-hop, there are a million different styles and everyone is trying to find the thing that will set them apart from everyone else and make them different.
There are few groups that really capture the original artistry of hip-hop better than Alert312. The Chicago based duo are vets in CHH and have made some beautiful music throughout their career. Their tenure with Humble Beast was highly productive. Alert was able to create some visually stunning and beautifully artistic hip-hop unlike anything else in CHH. Now that their time with Humble Beast has come to an end, it is fair to question what to expect from Alert312 with there new record The Upside Eternal.
If you are a fan of Alert312, there is no need to worry, because their unique style of making music hasn’t changed a bit since setting off on their own venture. The analogue style Alert has used all throughout their career was on a near perfect display on The Upside Eternal. The analogue style I’m referring to is what the group calls their style of music. It essentially means that they are personally responsible for the sounds you hear on the record. It is a very hands on approach that isn’t something you hear a lot of artists doing. With this creative process of making music and Moral One’s talent and history on the drums, it’s no surprise that The Upside Eternal is heavy on drums.
That heavy drum sound is featured on “The Wild” where those drums create the wild, almost jungle like, sound that is the foundation for a great track. “No Holds Tongue” is a great mixture of drums, bass and some scratching that gives the track a more classic hip-hop feel. Moral One is far from a one trick pony though, because he weaves so many beautiful instruments throughout this record that it’s hard to identify them all. On “Color Graded Agape” the track opens with the piano and a soft clap, then leads into the drums and a smooth bass guitar. It is a soulful and rich sounding track that really shows the versatility in sound that The Upside Eternal has.
The production on The Upside Eternal is very strong. It accomplishes a lot of different goals and all the while maintains a solid sound that will be enjoyable for all types of hip-hop fans. It is there to lay the backdrop for the journey that Boogalu wants to go on. The production creates a tone and feel when necessary, like on the very somber “The Darkest Night”. It is professionally well put together. You can hear all of the sounds that Moral One is trying to bring across.
Each sound has a place and purpose, and often times enhances the track. This is beautifully shown on “Eternal”. With this track, you are at the end of a journey and the production brings that across with the beautiful violins accompanying you all the way to the records triumphant end. Overall, it is truly great music that has a very authentic hip-hop feel and is a great example of artistry.
One of the great things about The Upside Eternal is that no matter how good the production got, the lyricism and message came up to meet it. Both Moral One and Boogalu worked well together to create the proper balance between emcee and production. Boogalu rode the production with ease and showcased a versatility that helped this project shine.
The place where Boogalu shined the most was with his lyricism. His wordplay was phenomenal throughout the entirety of the record. He can flip words with the best in the genre. This skill was on display at its best on the Propaganda assisted “No Holds Tongue”, “Flood Ash” and “Dwell All Day”. These tracks showed the raw emcee ability that Boogalu has. The true greatness in his lyricism stretched past this however.
The Upside Eternal is a heavy record. There is a lot of deep content that will feed listeners for a long time. Alert312 was trying to take the listeners on a journey with this record, and that goal was accomplished near flawlessly. On the opening track “Local” Boogalu lays the groundwork for the theme of the record. The Upside Eternal is about the dying and falling world that we are living in and in the midst of that, looking toward God who is our hope and the answer to the aforementioned problem.
The group’s artistry is also tracked through their lyricism on The Upside Eternal because this record is told in parts. The beginning of the record is about the corrupt, immoral and fallen world that we are faced with. It deals with things like lust and temptation on “Haunt Me Home” featuring Catalina Bellizzi. It addresses corruption on “Gargoyles” featuring MRENC and the idolatry of power and money on “Kingdoms Falling” featuring Taelor Gray. The second half of the album switches to talk about our hope, which is Jesus, and looking toward the “Upside Eternal”. They talk about God’s peace on the title track and His graciousness and love on “Everyone Eats”. This album is incredibly rich with great Christ-centered content. It is truly a beautiful record both in sound and in lyricism.
One of the things that may hurt this record is the fact that it is created to be played all the way through from start to finish. Now-a-days that is a tough ask of fans, most of whom don’t consume full albums in one sitting. This is not to say that there are not stand-alone tracks, because there are a few. The previously mentioned “Gargoyles” is a fantastically unique track that has some great playback value, as does “Falling Kingdoms”, “No Holds Tongue” and “Cloud City” featuring Jay Cabassa.
Another thing that could possibly hurt the record is how deep the record is. As a listener, you really have to pay attention to this record. The Upside Eternal is not for casual listening and it may take a couple listens to get most of the concepts that are being addressed. Even with those drawbacks, The Upside Eternal is a truly great album with a few elements to make this a great record for a very long time to come. If you aren’t familiar with Alert312 yet, it is time for you to wake up and get familiar with one of the best-kept secrets in all of Christian Hip-Hop.