These days, it's too easy for a skilled rhymesayer to be unfairly pegged a "Gangsta Rapper" if his lyrics have a hint of cartoon-ish violence and/or misogyny in them. It's also quite easy to pigeonhole the same rapper as an "Pop Artist" if his songs are cluttered with sing-songy choruses and club-friendly hooks. In this day and age of compartmentalized Hip Hop, what is a spiritually-minded lyricist to do?
Braille, an up-and-upcoming rapper from Portland, plans to undermine this mindless system of categorization by injecting uplifting rhymes with plenty of hope, honesty and positivity while keeping his beat-driven music as Pop-friendly as possible. On his new album, The IV Edition, the ambitious wordsmith tackles a plethora of serious subjects (from disenchantment to death) without resorting to obscenities or metaphorical gunplay. This full-length effort also showcases Braille's appreciation for stellar MCs (mostly from the Golden Era) that have paved the way for the creative flair, quality rhymes and deft lyricism that the rapper aspires to one day become known for.
No other song on the album is more indicative of Braille's heroic approach than the opening track, "Beautiful Humanity". Over catchy drums and a glorious violin sample, Braille infuses memorable lines from other famous rappers (e.g., the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Queen Latifah and Gangstarr) with his deftly personal message for peace, love and unity. He further reinforces his preacher-meets-MC vibe by including touching sound bytes from his father and a few of his international friends. Other stellar tracks include "Blessed Man," a song that brilliantly displays Braille's religious beliefs and appreciation for life and "Constantly Growing" (featuring Speech of Arrested Development, Surreal and Sojourn), a verbal expression of love in spite of the negativity that surrounds us.
The combination of old school reverence, pop sensibilities and lyrical consciousness works well on a majority of The IV Edition but his "goody two shoes" approach can make for a less-than-memorable experience on others. For example, "Submission Hold" is a failed attempt by Braille to subvert the Los Angeles Gangsta Rap ethos of self-indulgence and violent destruction with positive messages. He rides the updated G-Funk beat with a decidedly East Coast precision and elevated seriousness that misses all the laid-back fun that rappers in this particular subgenre of Hip Hop music display with chronic ease. "Raise the Dead" is another misstep where Braille channels the ghost of Slim Shady to discuss society's ills but misses the brash humor, blunt honesty and playful pessimism that makes Marshall Mathers a joy to listen to.
Braille's latest effort promises listeners a reprieve from the dichotomy of Thug Rap and Pop Hop with a counterattack of uplifting spirituality, Pop catchiness and Old School reverence. The Portland rapper fares well when these elements come together lovely and his powerful messages are in sync with the uplifting music. However, the young wordsmith lacks the joyful nature displayed effortlessly by his "less-than-moral" peers when he is too caught up in the seriousness of his expression. Hopefully, Braille can pepper his spiritually-minded songs with a bit more fun and playfulness the next time around.