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Awol One - Self Titled

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Artist: Awol One

Album: Self Titled

Label: Paladin

Review date: Sep. 16, 2004

Like many of the Left Coast left-brainer crew the Shape Shifters, AWOL One rejects the assumption that hip hop means rhyming your lines. However, unlike far more charismatic Shape Shifters like Radioinactive and Busdriver, AWOL One doesn’t have the verbal dexterity to pull it off; with his low, crackly voice, normally left in a monotone mumble, what is intended to expand the bounds of hip hop merely sounds lazy. With production about as inspired as its lyrics, including a few almost unlistenable segments, Self Titled is a record AWOL One should have hesitated to name after himself. But then again, he didn’t: the record’s title is Self Titled, not AWOL One, get it? Well, good, because the title is actually one of the cleverest things about this record.

Things get off to a deceptively good start with big names like Dilated Peoples’ Evidence behind the boards on the dramatic, string-looped “Make,” and Kutmasta Kurt guesting on “Believe,” the only track on this album appropriate for head-nodding. But Self Titled settles into stasis pretty quickly. The substandard production is definitely part of the problem, particularly Transducer’s eight sloppy contributions, ranging from Beverly Hills Cop-caliber synthesizers and keyboard sound effect orgies (the fake horns on “Take” are so bad they nearly are great) to Marilyn Manson-esque synthetic rock (“Fatalove” is utterly irredeemable).

But let’s not leave AWOL One out of the discussion. Even some of the better-produced tracks on the album, such as DJ Hashim’s Middle Eastern psychedelic “Slide,” come up as blanks because AWOL just doesn’t have the presence to rhyme over them, so he ends up somewhere underneath them. He lacks much in the way of a sense of humor, as Abstract Rude’s goofy appearance on “Grow” makes abundantly clear, and although an emcee avoiding the clichés of bullets-and-bitches, that doesn’t mean a rapper should sound like your father: “I believe girls should act their age/ learn some morals and close their legs.” Frequent mentions of the wife and kid AWOL lost in a messy breakup are made, but not much insight is made into this, and the one song that focuses entirely on the break, “Realeyes,” is easily the worst on the album. Over another synthetic Transducer track, AWOL spouts sincere, 10th grade-quality poetry (“Eventually everything grows and dies/ eventually all the laughs turn into cries,” “do you realize that I see through real eyes?”).

Self Titled is a reminder that originality does not always carry the day, nor can it always carry 62 minutes. Some artists were born to break the rules; others are just dying for a Timbaland remix.

By Josh Drimmer

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