“He Think He #Rapgod”
Ask any group of rap fanatics to discuss the most talented clans, posses, crews and cliques to have put in a claim of lyrical dominance over the years and the likes of Wu-Tang, Juice Crew, Flavor Unit and the Hit Squad would no doubt all be championed. But no such debate would be complete without Oakland’s Hieroglyphics collective being given a well-deserved mention.
First introduced to the rap world by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien on his 1991 debut “I Wish My Brother George Was Here…”, the Hiero crew spent the 90s simultaneously impressing listeners and obliterating wack emcees on releases from Souls Of Mischief, Extra Prolific and the cocky-but-likeable Casual. With albums produced by in-house crate-diggers such as Domino and Mike G, Hiero brought a next-level lyrical element to West Coast Hip-Hop at a time when gang-related rhymes from the like of Ice Cube (ironically Del’s cousin) dominated Cali’s sonic landscape. Now, nearly twenty years after the release of his 1994 debut “Fear Itself” (my personal favourite from the first wave of Hiero albums) and Casual is determined to take another step towards rap god status with his second album this year.
Like the solid “Hierophant” project released some six months ago, “He Think He #Rapgod” would have been more than enough to satisfy Casual fans in its own right if it had been the sole 2011 release from the Left Coast lyricist. Yet irrespective of the quality of both projects, neither are being considered ‘proper’ albums by Casual, with the Hiero member gearing up for the 2012 release of “He Still Think He Raw”. So with that in mind, why go to all the trouble of dropping two back-to-back releases which are effectively promotional tools when a mixtape project full of freestyles over popular beats would have sufficed for many artists looking to create a buzz? Well, as Casual states simply on his Bandcamp page, “Rapgod don’t do mixtapes, but I got albums fo that ass tho.”
Opening with the title track “#Rapgod”, Casual is joined by Souls Of Mischief’s Tajai and Pep Love, with the trio performing verbal gymnastics over Gully Duckets’ spaced-out production. Accompanied by a Phife Dawg vocal sample and a synthesized sound effect reminiscent of a Decepticon transforming in slow motion, Casual drops typically boisterous boasts, promising that “Every verse you hear is reverse engineered from the first one.”
Part of Casual’s brilliance as an emcee over the years has not only been his ability to pen pummeling multi-syllable barrages of wordplay, but also his talent for making such effective use of simple one-liners. Lyrics here such as “I’m venerable, you’re vulnerable” are delivered in such a way that Casual’s passion for bullying language and putting words together to embarrass the competition can clearly be heard.
“Baseball” is a sparse, head-knocking track featuring Casual, Killer Ben, Tristate and Planet Asia hitting verbal home-runs over subtle funk-fuelled guitar-licks, whilst the GKoop-produced “Lieza” has the Oaktown vet switching up into story-telling mode, weaving a graphic tale of a mistreated woman over an ominous, tense soundscape.
The brilliant “Flamethrower” finds producer Domino resurrecting the drum break heard on Big Daddy Kane’s late-80s favourite “Rap Summary”, with the “Pharoah of the Hiero crew” Del unleashing “rhyming pyrotechnical bonanzas” with effortless ease. Meanwhile, Toure mixes old-school 808 thumps with haunting chants for “Dogon Don” as Casual drops self-assured verses with the calm confidence of a king holding court in his own palace (“Enemies we pop at ’em, Break ’em down to the fraction of the size of an atom when I rhyme at ’em…”).
Still sounding as sharply entertaining and lyrically superior here as he did on his cult classic debut two decades ago, Casual, along with his Hiero homies, represents a dedication to the craft of lyricism that should make many of today’s so-called emcees feel ashamed to even attempt to claim the title. With “He Think He #Rapgod” Casual proves yet again that real lyricists don’t die, sometimes their skills multiply.
And remember, as Casual himself says, if you see a rap god, pay tribute.
Casual ft. Del – “Flamethrower” (Casual1.Bandcamp.Com / 2011)