Around the same time that Common and No I.D. delivered two amazing back-to-back albums in Resurrection and One Day It’ll All Make Sense, another outfit from Chicago echoed similar sentiments about Hip Hop. Like their name suggests, All Natural promoted stripped down Rap that focuses on everyman themes and percussion-driven production. The leader of the duo, Cap D (a/k/a Capital D) is recognized as a double-threat emcee/producer that helped make the Windy City a epicenter for elevated train perspective shared over soulful beats. His fourth solo album, Poly Math demonstrates musical experimentation while the lyrics stay true to their organic roots.
“Champion Anthem” is a bold proclamation from a traditionally humble emcee. As one of the two self-produced offerings on Polymath, Cap D’s work on the boards is nothing short of amazing. The artist whose late ’90s sparse instrumentals yielded to lyrics does almost entirely the opposite. With an crescendo chorus, fuzzed out guitars and ’70s Rock drums, this is the kind of music that superstars like Jay-Z and Kanye West seek for their anthems. With his mic time, Cap doesn’t brag that he’s a champion, but more so states that he’s an underdog “from the land of ‘La Di Da Di,’ who put down drinking to pick up books and better himself. That is not the only song that references Slick Rick. D’s “Addiction” extends the story of “Dave the dope-fiend” from the classic “Children’s Story.” With lots of alliteration, Cap D cautions listeners by profiling several types of addiction. Yet with an awkward chorus and a thrown-together first verse it’s unclear if the song has an overall message, or is just rhyming words pertaining to chemical dependency. There are similar issues at play with “Respect.” New Jersey’s !llmind delivers a whimsical vocal sample that Cap plays with, but the song comes across as a mixed message to urge egos be pushed to the side, and just omnisciently mentions cases of disrespect.
The one-word song themes and choruses fuel Polymath. Teaming up with late ’90s underground Chicago contemporary No I.D. on “Crush,” the two make a charged song. However, the repetition of the one-word chorus uses an opportunity with a top-notch song-maker and harnesses the finished product within that unpolished basement vibe. Cap’s songwriting dazzles in other places within the album. The stream of consciousness on “Watch Your Step” captures his city’s landscape, while tackling the racial disparities within the sections. In a darker tone, “Chicago Five-O” does the same. Here, Cap draws out his cadence and expresses his disdain for police, sharing the dangers of being detained by officers who don’t follow the rules. His other self-produced offering calls back to Organized Konfusion and Main Source with its hard drums and perfect match of eerie samples and discomforting lyrics.
Still, Polymath is bigger than Chicago. Cap D sounds at home trading bars with the newly-released Tragedy Khadafi on “Who, What, Why, Where, When, How.” Both emcees have rich histories that celebrate a knack for demonstrating their book smarts alongside their street smarts in unpretentious bars. Brother Ali joins the party on “King of The Mountain.” As the album’s opening cry, the record acknowledges that amidst changing climates and compromised music sales, the same Midwest scene that thrived in the cassette-and-vinyl era is still here collecting accolades and growing artistically. That point is made repeatedly on this LP, but it’s marred by songs that make Polymath a roller-coaster listen sonically, although Cap D has a succinct message.
Calling back to All Natural’s “50 Years,” Cap D can be a premiere songwriter. Like Mos Def or Wordsworth, D has a knack for community-based rhymes that flow effortlessly, and seem conversational enough to appear freestyled. Polymath has a handful of songs, including both self-produced gems, that demonstrate Cap’s best solo work to date. However, the sum of the parts is compromised with forced choruses and general themes that lack introspect found in other places. On his own, the direction that Cap D appears to be headed is a progressive one to one of the cornerstones in Chicago’s rise to prominence.