After warming up for a decade producing for artists like Mos Def, Scarface [click to read] and Beanie Sigel, 88-Keys [click to read] has decided that the time is right to try his hand at releasing his own LP. It feels strange to talk about a long respected musician bringing out his "debut" album but the slow burn seems to have served him well. The Death of Adam not only continues 88's consistent performance but shows that he's got a few new tricks as well.
After toying around with various ideas, 88-Keys picked a particular beat he especially loved to build the entire album's concept on. The result is a completely conceptual work telling the story of man who is effectually killed through his exploits with women. While the songs start as a straightforward celebration of sex, he eventually delves into aspects of the resulting relationship and ties is back in to the murder mystery theme and the deep execution saves what could (and often does) easily become a tired concept.
To tell his tale a bit more specifically, executive producer Kanye West, 88-Keys slowly but surely added vocals this once instrumental LP, singing and rapping on various tracks alongside a variety of guests. From a technical standpoint, 88-Keys neither sings like Usher [click to read] nor raps like Jay-Z [click to read], but he's perfectly capable at both, especially in the context of his own visions. He manages to hold his own on the mic next to West on "Stay Up! (Viagra)" [click to listen] or on the hilarious "The Burning Bush" with Redman.
The only significant issue with his vocals is that he constantly uses a distracting fuzz filter that makes every song sound like a version of "Warning" or "Phone Tap" despite that not necessarily being the desired effect. Experiments in the booth aside, 88-Keys is a producer first and clearly has an ear for more complex arrangements, especially in between songs where he often spins even the looped tracks into live Jazz arrangements that acts as transitional palette cleansers.
He effortlessly blends from traditional breaks/samples ("There's Pleasure In It") to breezy Soul (standout "M.I.L.F." with Bilal). The new-wave R&B sound of the J*DaVeY [click to read] assisted "Dirty Peaches" is frankly more interesting than anything we've heard from the duo when left to their own devices. Admittedly, something isn't quite right about the Rock-ish numbers that open the album but they're hardly bad--just not quite as well developed. They seem impressive at first but don't hold up as well after multiple listens.
Thanks to the efforts of OutKast, The Neptunes [click to read] and Kanye West especially, Hip Hop is generally more open to this kind of left-field experimentation than when 88-Keys first started. If this is the LP that he always intended to make, it probably is better that he sat on his hands until the audience was ready to appreciate it. Judging by his recent history, 88-Keys has put off his outside production work in favor of his own career and if this is what he'll do with his time instead, it's a reasonable trade.