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Sole - Live From Rome

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Artist: Sole

Album: Live From Rome

Label: Anticon

Review date: Feb. 24, 2005

The latest full-length from Sole, a founding father of the Bay Area’s arty hip-hop collective Anticon, is a strange one. It’s not live and doesn’t obviously have anything to do with Rome. Sole also sometimes sounds like he refuses to rhyme directly into the mic, and overall, the album has a lo-fi, hip hop mix tape feel, which is odd, since Sole presumably has enough money at this point to record his album properly. Also, Live From Rome is brazenly geeky: Sole’s many attempts at talking tough between verses fall somewhere between hilarious and simply silly. Again, this is odd, since Sole previously distinguished himself as the Anticon MC who was trying the hardest not to be a dork.

Still, I keep returning to this record for several reasons. The first is that the backing tracks here (created by Odd Nosdam, Alias, Controller 7, Telephone Jim Jesus, Matt and Tepr) are probably better than those on any of Sole’s previous albums. Odd Nosdam’s productions, in particular, seem to get more detailed and colorful all the time, and his six backing tracks on Live From Rome match big, bouncy beats to the weird Flying Saucer Attack-style noise of his work with Clouddead.

Sole’s rhymes are another good reason to return to Rome. Sole’s thoughts about the military-industrial complex won’t necessarily be revelatory to fans of indie hip-hop: Mr. Lif is more articulate, Aesop Rock and El-P are more colorful with their imagery, and Passage’s uncomfortable relationship with technology is more idiosyncratic and convincing. Still, Sole’s idealism is compelling, particularly on the spectacular “Dumb this Down,” which manages to throw a number of great punches despite never really picking a specific target. Sole warns that “You’re not created in the womb, you’re created in the classroom by rich people,” then reasons that "If free trade were real, everyone would own a company.” Elsewhere, Sole drops enough bitingly witty lines to elicit dozens of wry smiles: “If I was a religious man, I’d pray for an apocalypse,” he declares. “If I was me, I’d still pray for an apocalypse.”

The third reason to keep paying attention to Sole is that he’s smart enough to be aware of his dorkiness, and by the end of Live From Rome he has almost turned it into an asset. Lines like "If you thought I was bitin’ Noam Chomsky, you can kiss my ass” initially make the listener feel a bit embarrassed for Sole. But with repeated listenings, Sole’s personality seems progressively stronger, and soon it seems clear that Sole isn’t clueless; he just doesn’t care whether he seems tough.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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