“Control Your Own”
I’ve said it before in reviews and I’ll say it again here; producer-based albums can often be hit-and-miss affairs. Talented beat wizards can sometimes be let down by their choice of guest artists, whilst on the flipside, competent producers can find themselves overshadowed by their chosen collaborators, with their soundscapes not necessarily strong enough in musical personality to give an album the solid sonic backbone and direction it needs to stand above the competition. Either way, the end result can be a disjointed collection of tracks which feels like an uneven compilation, rather than a cohesive body of work.
In the case of “Control Your Own” from Ras Beats, the NY-based producer has avoided both of the above mentioned pitfalls. The list of featured artists on the project is impressive, ranging from golden-era legends to more recent rhyme animals, whilst Ras ensures his brand of sample-heavy production holds the album together with a sense of both confidence and individuality.
Having already gained attention as a lead single, the Roc Marciano-assisted “Wit No Pressure” sets things off as the opening track here, with the Strong Island representative dropping typically vivid verses over punchy drums and atmospheric samples, lacing his smooth-but-deadly rhymes with references to everyone from Hugh Hefner and Malcolm X to 50 Cent.
The short-but-effective “Shoebox” finds JBiz reminiscing on when he used to “want to be the next Chi-Ali” as he sifts through back-in-the-day memories of boom-boxes, listening to Tribe and watching Video Music Box, whilst the crashing drums and emotive vocal sample of the previously-released “Let It Be” provide the perfect backdrop for Brooklyn veteran Masta Ace to demonstrate that true skills really are timeless (“And this a different year, This ain’t ’88, I’m not defined by a time, That’s what made me great…”).
The hypnotic O.C. / Elzhi collabo “Knowledge Of Self” is definitely a standout, with the pair wrapping poignant life observations around soothing strings and a well-placed Rakim vocal snippet, displaying a natural chemistry that ensures the cut has an organic feel to it, rather than simply sounding like two seemingly unconnected emcees being pushed together for the sake of trying to make a tracklist more interesting.
Ras also pays homage to the galaxy of Queens on an instrumental effort named after his home borough, mixing the drama of a 70s blaxploitation soundtrack with a nod to the East Coast flavour of the 90s, whilst one of the game’s most recognisable voices Sadat X embraces his OG status on “Survive” (also previously-released), schooling today’s new generation of rappers from a place of genuine experience over dusty beats and melodic samples.
Closing the album is the melancholy “God Bless”, which features JBiz and DITC’s A.G. digging deep to deliver heartfelt rhymes about personal loss, with the musical partner of Showbiz really rising to the challenge via an emotionally-charged verse about his late father (“Your face can’t be replaced by time, You’ll forever be branded on my mind, I shed a tear with the ink pen, So I’ma make him proud while I’m here, That’s what I’m thinkin’…).
Further appearances from the likes of Blacastan, Rasheed Chappell and Sureshot La Rock add even more verbal weight to the album.
Overall, “Control Your Own” is a strong outing from Ras Beats, a gifted producer who clearly wants to add on to the legacy of traditional New York boom-bap rather than simply trying to recreate what has come before him.
“Control Your Own” drops here on July 19th.