As the year in Hip Hop drew to a close, it was clear that while some big releases delivered what they promised many others fell short of all the buzz. Then there were the eagerly awaited LP’s that saw their bold print release dates being pushed further and further back before missing the end of year cut completely.
For every overhyped album that squeezed out weeks of blog and Twitter leaks before taking a swan dive into an unfilled pool, there was a mixtape that blurred the lines between being a promotional tool to whet the appetites of fans and a standalone work with higher production values and cohesive themes; a collection of joints that survives repeated plays and possesses original beats that do more than loop every four bars. 2010 raised the bar on what mixtapes were capable of achieving. “Mixtape” is no longer synonymous with product that spoils on the shelf.
One such mixtape was Chronicles 2 and came from veteran Brooklyn emcee Jise of the Arsonists crew. Although digitally released around a year ago, the release came to CD in 2010, going largely under the radar.
The Arsonists whose two releases as a group fittingly fell a year before and after Y2K were the soundtrack to watch an urban landscape burn from a post-apocalyptic skybox in outer space. Like fellow Brooklynites Non Phixion, The Arsonists material has aged remarkably well partly due to the fact that they were fans of music period. They collaborated with Atari Teenage Riot and credited Pearl Jam right alongside Rakim.
Chronicles 2 features material from various eras and sessions interspersed with a few short interludes and what may have been cutting room floor verses and freestyles. Thematically Jise has chosen to sequence his verses in a way that provides an ambiguity and gray area that are essential when one decides to study character from a variety of angles. Give most emcees an album’s worth of verses and they’d still be unable to intertwine death-wishes, fatalism and self-loathing with nostalgia, a renewed work ethic and a cocky sense of purpose. Jise can do it all in a single track. (“Monday Morning”)
Like frequent collaborator and Arsonists crew member Q-Unique (who also provides Chronicles 2’s strongest beats and guest shots) Jise rises above the herd by focusing on the tangibles and igniting the senses of his listeners with a diary-style vividness.
It’s these tangibles especially as they are traded back and forth with guests on the posse cuts (“SRS,” “Hitman’s Code” and “Burst Through The Door”) that make Chronicles 2 a release worthy of winning the time of any fan of the art of rhyming. Jise and all the featured emcees are first rate when it comes to transporting listeners straight into the sights, sounds, smells and grit of a region; riding in “kitted Toyota Corollas” and in the back of Acuras past “storefront churches, stolen bicycles and graffiti smothered on hallway walls” while listening to Big Pun, Kane and KRS.
The production is competently handled by Q-Unique, DJ Caique and beatmakers from the Creative Juices crew. It stays with the tried-and-true formula that made the Arsonists releases hit so hard: off-kilter string swells, military march horns, Roy Ayers-inspired vibe samples, and soul choruses that don’t hide their vinyl pops.
Listen to Chronicles 2 and you’ll remember 1999, 2001 and 2010 as years that were good for music. This is a mixtape for Hip Hop heads who stayed up to listen to Stretch & Bobbito; who still reach for The Beatnuts and Violent By Design before Plies and Gucci; who appreciate chicks who can both “roll a blunt and have an educated conversation” and for those who think – to paraphrase D-Stroy on “I Don’t Know”- that conning tourists who can’t speak English into buying your mixtape isn’t “grinding.”