If Hip Hop’s golden era was all about superhuman emcees with names like Redman and equally ourterworldly claims like Reggie Noble’s threat to, “Snap Michael Myers’ neck”, on “Rated R,” then the second decade of the aughts has placed us squarely in the era of the everyman rapper. The likes of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar have mostly made their mark by picking up where Kanye West left off circa 2004. They rhyme equally well about their flaws, hedonistic desires and anything other than the actual craft of emceeing. The most commercially successful rappers generally eschew intricate wordplay for being relatable. It’s a decidedly different time period. Enter Detroit’s Red Pill and Hir-O, who manage to succeed as a hybrid of both eras.
Red Pill may currently lack the name recognition of Cole or Kendrick, but he’s every bit their kindred spirit in terms of crafting relatable rhymes based on his experiences and emotions. He’s very effective at painting vivid pictures without resorting to the dreaded “struggle raps.” Likewise, Hir-O juggles melodious offerings that compliment his partner in rhyme while still keeping the listener’s interest. And he really rises to the occasion on “Architect” and “Half-Remembered Dream.” The project occasionally stumbles when listeners are presented with what are essentially third world rapper problems such as being the opening act for an unreceptive audience as on “Best Rapper.”
Generally, what Red Pill offers is himself. “Half-Remembered Dream” showcases anecdotes about an alcoholic mother and struggles with poverty so detailed that they include references to clothes reeking of cat urine. And while it’s billed as a single, “We Are Not Like Them” is arguably one of the more nuanced looks at Occupy Wall Street offered by any emcee. Guests are kept to a minimum, and there are enough references to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 blockbuster, Inception, to tie the proceedings together without drifting into concept album territory. The project draws its title from the jarring sensation used to wake both Inception’s fictional characters stuck in multi-level dreams and those still figuratively sleeping on the duo’s skills.
If The Kick has one major flaw it’s that Red Pill and Hir-O rarely display the kind of passive listening, entertaining offerings that ultimately separate elite emcees from the faces in the crowd. As Red Pill points out on the title track, he makes a conscious choice to sacrifice some entertainment value for a positive and uplifting listening experience. But enlightenment and entertainment don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Relating to the everyday struggle and uplifting listeners is as noble a cause as any, but over the course of 52 minutes, it can get repetitive.
It’s hard not to spin The Kick and feel the only thing preventing Hir-O and Red Pill from gaining more recognition is time and an overcrowded marketplace. They already roll together as a dynamic duo in the fashion of Gang Starr or Eric B. & Rakim, and they sport names that could easily fit with 90’s rhyming superheroes. As it currently stands they’re respectable—more than solid but not yet spectacular. But even rhyming superheroes sometimes have humble beginnings, and The Kick serves as a great platform to display Red Pill and Hir-O’s growth since 2012’s Dream Within A Dream.