Band of the Day

2012.03.02

Rakaa

An underground hip hop luminary creates an eclectic solo record
Darkness served with the bitter taste of pain. Raised in Hollywood but real life is more than stranger. It's the sun shining from my California manger.
lyrics from Crown of Thorns

Rakaa is one third of the famed hip hop group Dilated Peoples. Formed in Los Angeles in the early 90s, Dilated Peoples became one of the most successful underground hip hop groups of the 90s. The group also flirted with mainstream success, particularly with the 2004 single “This Way” featuring Kanye West. Rakaa split off the from the group for his 2010 solo album Crown of Thorns, though the emcee emphasizes that Dilated Peoples has always been a collaboration of independent artists, and that his solo work does not spell the end for the collective. A hip hop renaissance man, in addition to his considerable skills as an emcee, Rakaa excels as a graffiti artist, has worked as an event planner, and is accomplished in the martial art Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

Since they formed in the early 90s, Los Angeles underground hip hop trio, Dilated Peoples, have only scratched the surface of the mainstream--but that hasn't stopped their socially-conscious hip hop from being deeply influential. In his first solo outing, Dilated Peoples emcee Rakaa continues his main group's tradition of hard hitting hip hop, releasing an album of eclectic, energetic music. Crown of Thorns' thirteen tracks runs the gamut from angrily heated flow to Latin hip hop party vibes to slow and pretty ballads. The hip hop elder statesman shows he's nimble and on his toes, but always maintains tight production and clever rhymes. With its forlorn, wordless vocal sample haunting the back of the mix, “Delilah,” produced by Evidence, is a stirring tale of heartbreak and one of the strongest moments on the album. Every word Rakaa spits tingles with intensity as he raps lines like “Swear to God I felt physical pain in my heart/ putting pictures on tracks like graffiti on trains/living in the shark tank/808 and heartbreak.”

Tracks like “C.T.D.” rock a more upbeat mood. Leveraging a loop of Motown horns and background cheers of clipped vocals (sampled from "Heatwave" by Martha & the Vandellas), the track is soulful and makes you want to move, and Rakaa's fiery flow pumps it with energy. In “Crown Of Thorns,” things edge on apocalyptic as Rakaa invokes Biblical imagery over end of the world organs and gospel cries. Rakaa raps, “Darkness served with the bitter taste of pain/Raised in Hollywood but real life is more than stranger/It's the sun shining from my California manger” before soul man-of-the-hour Aloe Blacc comes in with a rousing hook.

The album moves around frequently, but Rakaa is always on his game, and his carefully chosen group of guest musicians and producers ensure the changes of direction work flawlessly.