Whenever you’re talking about an Eyedea & Abilities album, you should never expect that run-of-the-mill rap record. There was no cookie cutter formula when the duo dropped First Born in 2001 and the same could be said for their self titled sophomore effort, which came out in 2004. Five years later, E&A continue to rebel against what is expected in this year’s By the Throat, the group’s third release thus far.

Whoever said battle rappers can’t make songs surely wasn’t referring to Eyedea. The emcee half of the pair may have won numerous battles with impressive freestyle performances but he’s also known for putting together intriguing song lyrics with thought provoking concepts. For instance, “Time Flies When You Have a Gun” is a gem with lines like “You can own it but mostly, it’ll own you.” Utilizing the same skill, “The E.Y.E.” can become emotionally compelling: “Winter takes the warm away/Spring takes the cold away/Summer takes the rain away/Fall took away my friend…I’ll always remember our companionship and what it meant/And on Sunday, October the 5th/ You took your last breath/ And you will be missed.”

The lyrical output is mostly great, but the rhyme patterns aren’t as complex as they once were. Fans may also be surprised to hear Eyedea singing throughout the 11 cuts. With side projects Face Candy and Carbon Carousel under his belt, it is only unusual in his work with Abilities. Here, he sings with more emotion than vocal prowess as he goes against the Auto-Tune craze. At times his crooning is tolerable, but it is often bordering on pedestrian.

DJ Abilities is more than capable of matching Eyedea with his production and scratching. To compliment the singing and aggressive deliveries, Abilities supplies rock-inspired beats. His drums show influences from punk rock music with heavy snare hits (“Hay Fever”), quicker paced drum patterns (“Sky Diver”), and distorted guitar riffs (“Spin Cycle”). Want more traditional rap beats? The closest you’ll get is “Burn Fetish.” Otherwise, Abilities takes chances experimenting with other genres and scratches with technical attention to detail but the fusion isn’t always impeccable. It’s almost reminiscent of fellow RSE artist P.O.S.’s Never Better, only not as seamless in its fusion. While it’s hard to deny the chemistry between emcee and DJ, the result of this experiment are only adequate and often difficult to listen to.        

E&A continue to fight against convention. With a decidedly more rock infused release, the duo isn’t catering to longtime fans, which may not always be a bad thing. Abandoning the battle raps for more singing would have been great if Eyedea’s voice was up for the challenge. Nevertheless, with Oliver Hart’s introspective, abstract and compelling lyrics and Abilities’ scratching mixed with unconventional beats, E&A does not completely fail. After all, intelligent rhymes and varied beats can’t be knocked. Risk takers and experimental artists will always have hits and misses and this album carries both. Is it better to show fans the range of what you can do, or do what you do best?  By The Throat is an album that answers that question.