By Chad Hoyle (@chadillacgrilz)
The Oakland-based Hieroglyphics rap crew returns this month with their long-awaited third album The Kitchen. The new album is only the third full length album from the group, and their first since dropping Full Circle in 2003.
It revisits many of the familiar sounds and themes of Hiero past, but lacks some of the magic that made their previous albums underground hip-hop classics.
Overall production duties on The Kitchen were handed over to The Sleeprockers, a Sacramento DJ team of four that claims to “to bring a unique sound that can be heard through their mix technique, scratch work, & crowd control.” The emphasis on the scratch work is evident, but it’s not necessarily a positive, and at times the tracks actually feel overproduced. One of the greatest things about the Hiero sound was the ease with which melodic beats and complimentary rhymes blended together, and although that continues on many tracks to some degree, the presence of scratching and tempo shifts are obvious detractors. This is most evident on the track “All as Above so Below,” which features a strong beat and classic Hiero rhymes, but is sullied by the superfluous Beastie Boys sample haphazardly scratched in.
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Apart from the production changes, the rest of the album maintains the Hiero sound through the eclectic combination of talented voices on each track, but never excels. Fifteen years in the game, Del, Casual, A-Plus, and the rest are still rapping about smoking weed, making money, and being the best, while managing to keep the tone fun rather than pompous in typical Hiero fashion. Unfortunately some tracks, like “The Mayor” and “Merch,” rely on the device of phrase repetition more so than previous albums- a concept hard to digest from a crew that defined themselves with freestyle rhymes.
The high quality beats carry over with the help of Opio, originally a member of the Souls of Mischief, who has a magical talent for warping samples into something that defines the tone of the group. However, though responsible for past album highlights such as “Oakland Blackouts” and “Halo”, the closest Opio comes to a banger on the new album is the track “Wshores Galore,” featuring a retro-themed beat that begs to be played on loop.
While most of the songs are good, none of them stand out as markedly great-a shift for the rap crew whose earlier albums have always featured a few choice cuts that stay with you well beyond the initial listen. Overall it seems like the crew wanted to revisit elements of their music that have made them successful in the past, but lost themselves in the process. As a result, this album has the makings of becoming a forgotten entry in the already-limited Hiero canon.