4 out of 5
Produced by: Various
Evidence is an amazing storyteller, whose tales I can listen to endlessly. I put him on a similar pedestal as Aesop Rock, who fittingly appears on a track on Cats & Dogs, Evey’s sophomore solo release; while Aesop tends to have a broader topical palette, and a deeper lexicon, both rappers have a slow-roll style I admittedly adore, and can spin words to say the most mundane things in continually different, and inventive ways.
Cats & Dogs is an interesting title, implying the forever mismatch of the two species; musically, the album is butter, with every track featuring an all-star producer giving us amazingly grooving beats, and Evidence and others slickly and memorably rapping over each. Evey dodges out of his weather obsessions after the first track to apply his lyrical skills at a somewhat surface level – the album is often just rapping about rapping: why Evidence does it, how he does it. This isn’t the same as being continual boast tracks, but it has a similar effect: while the delivery and music are perfection, the content is constructed as cleverly as ever, but doesn’t necessarily have a lasting impact. That, to me, is kind of the Cats & Dogs of the title: Evey trying to find a balance between the easy appeal of radio rap and more cutting subject matter that might appeal to him.
There are undeniably fascinating sidesteps on this road, with It Wasn’t Me in particular looking at the struggle between maintaining self identity and a stage presence, and Well Runs Dry an intriguing “gotta push through it” meditation on writer’s block, but on the whole, much of the album is just Evey (and others) telling us about the act of rapping and producing, and of what it takes to remain good at it and current; the metaness of it is how good every song on the album is – self-reflexive proof.
There’s perhaps a slight disconnect in that I’d say the majority of the album is fairly upbeat in a sense, but Evidence can’t help but make things sound pretty serious, and his producers follow that muse – beats are soulful but somewhat downbeat. Fit that into the ‘Cats & Dogs’ concept again, though, and it works. It’s truly an album of non-stop hits – nothing feels superfluous, and the rotating cast of producers tweaks the general mood of tracks enough to keep the whole thing moving, making its 70 minutes a breeze of head-swooning raps and head-bobbing beats.