On his solo debut, Patience, Northern California emcee TRUTHLiVE shows a clear disdain for the mainstream and an interest in “big picture” topics, skewing away from specificity and into generality. He discusses bullying, the Presidency of George W. Bush, artistic inspiration, and, too often, the state of Hip Hop today. It is commendable that TRUTHLiVE wants to cover so much ground, but it’s disappointing that he chooses to do it at the cost of details and a personal connection to the listener. The man is clearly talented, possessing a forceful delivery that also maintains a sense of composure. Unfortunately, by the end of Patience, the listener is left knowing much more about the emcee’s “policies,” if you will, than about the kind of person he really is.
Patience offers a good introduction to the emcee in “That Dude” with a minimalist beat provided by Jake One. The Seattle veteran handles production throughout the album, which allows Truth to display his aforementioned confidently unhurried style. Next up is “Ready Set Go,” which features a live band feel. It’s the first of many songs that see the Berkeley rapper addressing larger, global issues. He raps “Not me, I’m a lead / Till we’re free from all the greed / Plant seed / Breed and blossom at light speed / I indeed proceed.” But there is nothing light-speed about TRUTHLiVE, and nothing seemingly groundbreaking in his ideas. Why rap about changing the world in these broad stroke, generic terms? Why not discuss, in specific, interesting detail, the things that are going wrong and what can really be done about them, if anything. The same problem arises in “It’s Easy,” a song about bullying whose message is undeniably worthwhile, be yourself no matter what, but whose lyrics are disappointingly non-specific, weird kid, tormented by the cool kids and feels tempted to conform. This story is supplemented with guidance counselor advice and adages like, “be the change you wish to see.” When dealing with love on “Poetry in Motion,” TRUTH again takes the generic route. Despite boasting Jake One’s suitably romantic production, with a single note piano line recalling a racing heartbeat, a catchy chorus crooned by Trevor Wesley, and some clever lyrics like “Don’t want to make her mine I want to be hers,” a nice reversal of the typical attitude towards domination of women. Most of the song contains groan-worthy pick up lines like “Feel like the only people here, though the dance floor is packed / They say opposites attract / But I feel we are exact.” Despite his platitudes, LiVE’s insights come alive on “The Bush Years.” Here, Jake One lays down a menacing beat featuring rattling chains and Truth spits angrily cynical lines like “Waiting for elections like that’s gonna be some new shit / This whole thing is fraudulent / Writing’s on the wall, graffiti quite obvious.”
The emcee fares much better when he deals with the Rap game, but even that grows tiresome as hearing yet another underground rapper complain about the mainstream feels de rigueur. But credit where credit is due, TRUTH does create some compelling music dealing with this well-worn subject. “Remind Rewind” is a charmingly earnest track about going back to your favorite music when you feel discouraged and in need of inspiration, as scratches from DJ D Sharp lend it a suitably old-school vibe. “Digital Courage” can feel a little preachy, but the emcee’s dissection of the way the Internet has affected Rap is dealing with a vital topic and his willingness to implicate himself in the matter shows an admirable self-awareness. Easily, “Catalyst for Change” is the album’s best cut. Jake One’s production is suitably off-kilter, accentuated with ghostly whistles and rattling cow bells. TRUTHLiVE is again at his best and most forceful when addressing his displeasure with the current state of Rap, “It’s a mockery when you need a glock to win / See, these toxic dreams destroy flocks of men / No you can’t stop me or box me in / I spit shit Lil Wayne can’t comprehend.” Ras Kass comes through and delivers a monster verse opening with “I’m ’bout new boxers and Air Force One’s everyday / Doing a buck-ten on the freeway, switchin’ lanes / I’m ’bout pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters / I’m ’bout Pan-Africanism and pancaking six-trays.” As great as these tracks are, though, one begins to wish TRUTH would open up a bit about himself. Thankfully he does on the album’s impressive closing track, “Nature of Man.” A swaggering beat and a rolling piano line propel this most personal track. Finally, he has decided to let the listener in and it results in the record’s best lyrics, “I got anxiety, it’s mounting and it builds each day / I got a “Why me?”-doubting that won’t go away / I got a fish bowl complex, I feel the eyes / I got a deep subconscious and it’s riddled with lies / I got acid reflux stay burning my throat / I got ideas in trucks and those by the boat / I got real a bad habit to self destruct / I got used to the average and not giving a fuck.”
The trouble with Patience is that TRUTHLiVE sounds best and brings his strongest material when addressing the Rap game, but that subject that has grown pretty stale and holds little interest to many music fans, and he falters when faced with serious subjects, often falling back on the crutches of clichés and platitudes. But “Nature of Man” is a very good sign. If the emcee is able to maintain that kind of honesty and continue to apply it to his own life and also the world around him while leaving the petty, “inside baseball” Rap game grumblings alone he will be an emcee worth watching for.