Nearly 20 years after giving us “The Choice is Yours,” Dres is continuing to lead the Black Sheep charge. The banner solely on his back now, he faces the task of keeping the name and music relevant in 2010. Of course, the hit that started it all is currently getting burn in a Kia commercial, but the emcee isn’t trying to be merely a relic of the past; he’s trying to make an impact today. Black Sheep will continue to have its place in the culture’s encyclopedia but with the release of The Black Pool of Genius, Dres can further the Native Tongues legacy into the new age.
Fortunately for Black Sheep fans, that legacy’s strong reputation is kept in tact. Those who know Dres understand what kind of emcee he is and they get the positive side of Rap throughout The Black Pool. With Dres riding effortlessly in his own lane, he’s also the beneficiary of assistance. Jean Grae (“Party Tonight”), Rhymefest (“Power to the Pih Poh”) and AZ (“Winner”) lend bars to the album with some stealing the spotlight in the process, but only momentarily. Others also make appearances including The Beatnuts’ Psycho Les, with a wonderfully chopped beat (“Important Facts”) and Q-Tip, who comes in for a Native Tongues reunion of sorts.
Even when he’s the lone Sheep, Dres continues to shine. He can easily give fans traditional, quality pieces, which he does as the album starts. From the piano keys that introduce “For the Record,” Dres reassures longtime followers and he reaffirms them with “Splash,” “Forever Luvlee” and “Reason to Pray.” On the latter track, he shows the personal touch that makes his rhymes so relatable and appealing. “We all fall short / But understanding who you are makes you master of all courts / I’ve come to understand that this mic is my gift / And since it is what it is, guess I exist to uplift.” Aside from dropping his positive perspective, he also extends his creative boundaries, crafting the genre-bending “Elevation,” where he shares more inspiring words (“Dres forever rocks the rhythm / Black Sheep, chin deep, in the pool of optimism”).
While the album holds up well, it isn’t without its diluted efforts. For instance, actress Rosie Perez lends her recognizable vocals to one of the weaker cuts, “Muy Bueno,” while “Victory” is forgettable. In some ways, this album suffers in the same light. The Black Pool of Genius is solid but it isn’t as memorable as the brand’s introductory work. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare an artist to their strongest projects but it may be the curse that comes with the gift. The disc shows great longevity and consistency, but lacks the fresh explosion of sounds that Dres helped pioneer.