4 out of 5
Label: Sub Verse Music
Produced by: DJ Kool Akiem
Dense, brutal, moving hip-hop, with rich production from DJ Kool Akiem that perfectly maps to MC I Self Devine’s heavy flow.
Micranots’ topical m.o. is suggested by browsing its track titles: Preparations, Culture, Critical, Visualistic – I Self isn’t a showy MC, and remains very focused in his rhymes. This isn’t the same as being limited, though, as Self’s lyrics are quite expansive, but he spits with passion and direction – tracks are not tossed off; they have a point. There’s not much humor or braggadocio on Obelisk Movements, sticking very much to social commentary, whether critical, or of a more embracing positivity. Either way, it’s stuff that makes you want to try to listen in, distracted as you may be by head-bobbing beats and the way Self works his punctuated speech in and around that beat.
DJ Kool Akiem’s music is definitely the special sauce: worked with clipped, soulful beats, Akiem plays up the low end so that every track has a recognizable groove, and proves adept at adding just the right bit of flourish – patient scratch work, selective samples. When listening to some classic hip-hop, I’m guilty of wondering what people “hear” in certain beats that just don’t do it for me – what makes beats stand out? It’s “easier” when the production is more layered, but when it’s fairly stripped down – as Akiem’s work is – what’s the nuance? But Kool’s work allow me to appreciate the perspective, or at least in a way I can understand it: the balance of richness and room, something that can instantly get you nodding along to the rhythm and doesn’t bore if / when looped, but also leaves space for an MC to step in. Every track on Obelisk hits on that.
The one thing I’d say the album is lacking, though, is something that often happens with conscious hip-hop: tracks are necessarily crowded with lyrical thoughts, and that doesn’t always result in a chorus that stands out and makes one song more memorable than another. Not everything has to be a single, of course, but a hook like that can help make the point you’re trying to make land more effectively, as a sing-song chorus makes it more likely said song will get stuck in my head along with the lyrics. I’m down with listening to Obelisk Movements on repeat, and it’s not like it’s wholly without hooks, but they’re also not a focus, so out of 18 tracks, I can only name a few that really emerge as standouts, even though track-by-track, they’re all incredibly solid.
However, I’d take a repeatable, solid album over a few great tracks and filler, and Obelisk is on the short lips of hip-hop albums I can pretty much put on any time and just leave it on a loop, enjoying it equally for its music, Devine’s flow, and its content.