The digitization of underground Hip Hop was a blessing and a curse for the emcees under its umbrella. Sure, the neuvo-backpackers existed via the Internet – emailing songs, making iBooks tracks, and “keystyling” with kids in Belgium. The bigger switch, though, was in the production. Any kid could be Bobby Digital and craft beats that leaned on electronic sounds with a handful of obscure samples. The challenge is molding lyrics to fit those beats. That very predicament sums up Awol One‘s second go round with producer Factor on their follow-up album, Owl Hours.

Awol One, an emcee whose roots are far from dot-communism, he’s that guy who throughout the tenure of his career was the best thing that happened to his songs. The typical gritty subsurface situation – rusty beats over a garage-sale MPC with just enough absence that the Shapeshifters alum could still sound good. His near-decade old Four Eyed Mortalz exemplified that notion, as Awol took baby steps to increase his production thereafter. Teaming with producer Factor in 2007 on Only Death Can Kill You was wise, given Factor‘s knack for dark production and Awol‘s penchant for being melodramatic. Owl Hours is different – at least on Factor‘s behalf. We have an emcee who calls himself the Walrus (an obvious Beatles reference) attempting to get his Rubber Soul on and still please Rap fans. It’s not impossible since Hip Hop progressively accepts melding sounds – provided there’s still some Hip Hop to it. The rapper cameos and Xzibit‘s executive producer credit [click to read] are the only things Hip Hop about this album.

The opener “Glamorous Drunk” is somewhat misleading, where Awol and Factor sound like a west coast Atmosphere [click to read], swapping Slug‘s temper for Awol‘s pleas. Awol should’ve dipped into his Dilated Peoples [click to read] handbook and took some tips on solid sing-free hooks. Awol does this for the greater portion of the work, even awkwardly singing whole tracks including “Celebrate” and “Back Then” where cohorts Gregory Pepper and Ceschi sing too. Awol gets spanked by cameos on “Stand Up”, where Myka 9 is the victor over Awol‘s emoisms and Aesop Rock‘s [click to read] Encyclopedia Britannica flow, and “Darkness” where Sunspot Jonz takes the crown over Gel Roc and Jizzm. You’d expect more from Xzibit on “Brains Out” given he gave this record the ultimate cosign. Factor held up his end of the bargain – his late ’60s-inspired electro-production is exactly what Awol One wanted. But Whitey Ford wanted to sing the blues, and so we’re left with groundbreaking production embracing weak lyrics – like a million dollar flask housing cheap liquor.

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Awol One hoped to time travel on Owl Hours and had every opportunity to thanks to Factor‘s stellar production. Instead he got stage fright and opted to silly dance instead of keeping to the routine. Perhaps he needs some more “incense and peppermints” for next time.