Detaching himself from The Arsonists for a second solo venture, Brooklyn’s Q-Unique finally presents the underground scene with his latest LP, Between Heaven and Hell. Serving as the first indication that the Fat Beats brand lives on despite the store’s doors closing, the most recent label release is a step in the right direction for the label, as well as Q-Unique.
Between Heaven and Hell is the soundtrack of a New Yorker growing up in the city during a darker time. There is nothing friendly about the album; no sidestepping around touchy subjects or sanitizing details. Q-Unique brings stories of the streets straight to listeners’ ears, set against backdrops of ominous instrumentals and aggressive flows. This is great for fans who love this sort of thing, but a lack of variety on the album will alienate listeners who may not be in the mood to hear about such grim subject matter or such heavy, depressing beats. Q-Unique’s musical preferences are obvious on the album: storytelling tracks, street life raps, and instrumentals centered around vocal samples and keys.
Regardless, he’s good at what he does (save for rare moments such as “Green Grass,” the token weed anthem that really doesn’t say anything much different than any other weed anthem ever made), and he brings along some notable friends to mix things up a bit. He gets most creative on “Man of God,” produced by Al’ Tarba, and “Dead Roses,” produced by Quincey Tones. The former is the story of the son of a Catholic family, who grows up in the church but falls victim to the hands of a perverted priest. It’s a news story we’re all familiar with, however in Unique’s version of the tale, the abused child decides to take revenge into his own hands. “Dead Roses” is the closest thing to a love story that Between Heaven and Hell has to offer, and the ending is far from happy, as it details a girl’s life from her family issues to her drug running, and how it screwed over her man in the process. As crazy as the stories may sound, the way Q-Unique spits it is compelling enough to make one wonder if his bars are actually based upon personal experience.
Q channels Juice in the standout track “Mr. Lopez,” which is a tale of a few people who decide to rob a store and end up killing the clerk in the process, only to see that they walked off with $40 and some change. The song plays out somewhat like a short film, and as each verse portrays a greater sense of panic, Q-Unique’s self-produced instrumental becomes more dramatic to emphasize it. By the end of the song he concludes, “Six hands carry, six hands let go, watch the dollar bill in the street increase the death toll, death means everything and it can mean nothing, especially when someone’s in your way and you need something.”
Features from Ill Bill, Psycho Realm, Slaine, and some of The Arsonists will draw some extra listeners to Between Heaven and Hell, however one may only be able to take so much torment and conflict in their music before the LP begins to feel slightly less enthralling. Despite a lack of conceptual variation within the selection of tracks, Q-Unique’s solo effort still serves as a strong representation of New York underground Hip Hop.