God is hardly an unfamiliar topic in Hip Hop, but for some reason when white rappers express their love of all things Jesus they are automatically called Christian rappers. Unfortunately, labels and categories can keep an audience away without ever hearing the music. Such has been the case for Braille [click to read]. The Portland native has been releasing albums since he was 17 a decade ago but has yet to build a base as large as many indie artists who got their start in the late '90s. Like so many other emcees making music in relative obscurity, his talent hasn't a thing to do with it.
Braille is no stranger to collaborative efforts, along with Omega Watts and Othello he comprises the group Lightheaded, but Cloud Nineteen is his first time working with a single producer for an entire project. The beatsmith in questions is Symbolyc One, probably better known to you as S1 from Waco, Texas trio the Strage Fruit Project. S1's production on their 2004 debut Soul Travelin' was largely responsible for the comparison's to the new indie sensations at the time; Little Brother [click to read].
The chemistry between Braille and Symbolyc One is evident pretty quickly. The emcee's no gimmicks, honest-to-goodness lyrics are a good fit for S1's straight-forward production. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that everything they're making is going to knock you out the box. It seems that when Braille gives his more heartfelt efforts, the production doesn't measure up. "Broken Heart," a song about Braille's deceased Dad, is exhibit A. If the song wasn't dragged down by the generic beat, it is by the syrupy hook. The best results consistently comes with the straight shit-talking tracks, such as "Thats My Word" or "Hardrock." "Megaphone" could be included in that group as well, though it would be largely due to Vursatyl's show stealing turn.
"For Life" is the pinnacle of Cloud Nineteen, a trusty ode to Hip Hop over pulse-racing production. Why this song didn't open the LP rather than the ho-hum "Its Nineteen" is a complete mystery. In fact, the sequencing here isn't very good at any point. Every time the album really gets rolling, it takes a dip. The most glaring example of this poor sequencing is "Found Her," "From The Pulpit," and "Megaphone." "Found Her" is definite standout on the album, a very well-written tale of finding the woman who would be his wife. But it's followed up by the mundane "Pulpit," which, sonically, has no place following it up. The same can be said for "Megaphone," it's a great song but it doesn't sound right where it is.
Cloud Nineteen is a case of the sum being less than its individual parts. There is a handful of really good tracks and its solid as worst, but in the end it doesn't resonate as well as it should. It could be because of the sequencing, or maybe it just is what it is, as cliche as it may be. This is a good album right here, nothing more, nothing less.