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Sole - Selling Live Water

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Artist: Sole

Album: Selling Live Water

Label: Anticon

Review date: Mar. 6, 2003

We're Sold

This review began as a standard-format piece-- brief history of Sole (battler turned avant-poet, Bottle of Humans big bang through tour pieces and unofficial releases, etc.), then the big “but...”

“But this album represents a significant departure...”

“But this album moves in a completely new and ambitious direction...”

“But that was then, this is now...”


The phrase “significant departure” came to mind, but that approach was wrong. To sum it up simply: Bottle of Humans was an amazing album, immediately hailed as a classic. Selling Live Water improves upon that album in every identifiable category. To say that I didn’t expect this level of work from Sole at this point would be an understatement. In the intervening couple years since Bottle of Humans, Sole has gone the way of Dr. Dre and released a pair of underachieving unofficial projects, _uck_rt and MansBestFriend (not to mention the unfortunate So-Called Artists, with DJ Mayonnaise and Alias, which for some reason just didn’t work at all), neither of which ever showed even glimpses of the Sole that gave the world songs like “I Don’t Rap in Bumper Stickers,” and “Year of the $exxx $ymbol.” With the release of the two unofficial projects, the indie-hop community was wondering if it had found its Nas, to be forever remembered for one classic album, and then deplored for never achieving those heights again. Ironically, the public opinion towards anticon as a label and collective seem to some extent to follow the tides of Sole, and his unofficial projects had the “catch us before we fall off” slogan seeming sadly prophetic.

For my part, I was expecting something in-between, so-so, not quite bad enough to be disappointing, but nothing to write home about. I was expecting to write a review that referenced Bottle of Humans in a nostalgic “remember when...?” sort of way. But holy shit.

This album was originally conceived as a duet of sorts between Sole and Alias. As it happened, Sole had done work with other producers that he wanted released officially, so the duet was reimagined as an EP that will hopefully hit shelves this fall. We can be thankful for that fact. Not because Alias and Sole’s work together isn’t great, because it is, but because the other producers (Jel, Odd Nosdam and Telephone Jim Jesus) contribute incredible work to the album (the opener “Da Baddest Poet,” orchestrated by Jim Jesus, is an electrojolt of a track, just incredible). What’s most impressive though is that the album coheres beautifully: there is not a single song that sounds out of place. While all of the producers in the anticon camp have certainly developed their own styles, as a group there is certainly an “anticon sound” they have created. No other album has ever more completely put that sound on display. It is a pleasure to listen to.

One might think that the step-up in production would be tough for Sole and his breathless flow to keep up with. However, again very unexpectedly, Sole not only fixes the major flaws in his delivery, he plays with different deliveries on the album, a new direction in experimentation for him. He enunciates clearly throughout, and manages not to get ahead of himself as he was wont to do on Bottle. The new focus on and confidence in his delivery brings Sole’s lyrics to the fore, which is always interesting; here, it works very well. This album should be considered the latest installment in anticon and company’s exploration of the first person self. Gone are the conceptual sidesteps like “Suicide Song.” Instead there is simply Sole doing what he does best: describing his life as a man paradoxically living his dream and watching it from the outside. Worth noting: on “Slow, Cold Drops,” the lyrics are written by the pedestrian, though still performed by Sole, calling into further question (a la The Other Side of the Looking Glass) who exactly the “I” of all this is.

I can’t say enough about how impressive Selling Live Water is as a follow-up to Bottle of Humans. I could mention each of the tracks on the album as highlights (I will say that "Pawn in the Game 1 & 2," produced by Alias, are both just breathtaking), both for the truly beautiful production work and Sole’s new and improved vocals. Holy shit, yes indeed. “Tim Holland and Shattuck on a Roman holiday.” Glad to be here.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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