erasing clouds

Eyedea and Abilities, E&A

reviewed by ben rubenstein

I've liked almost everything the Rhymesayers collective has put out, so I approached this, Eyedea and Abilities second release, with high hopes even though I had never been a big fan of either artist. I had only heard Eyedea in brief guest appearances on songs by Slug, Sage Francis, and Aesop Rock, and was never all that impressed. He has a lightning fast flow that accentuates his interesting lyrics, but it has always seemed like he's trying a little too hard; he trips on his own words too often and gets overly complex. E&A, which pairs the rapper with his longtime production buddy DJ Abilities, was an opportunity to provide both artists with some badly-needed confidence that would allow them to exhibit their considerable talents instead of reaching too much artistically.

Eyedea and Abilities share the duties equally on this album, and they clearly have a strong rapport, as shown by the near-perfect melding of vocals and production on tracks like "Reintroducing" and "One Twenty". Abilities tends to favor classic turntablism (lots of scratching), and leans heavily on spacey, spooky background music. While the two artists work together well, too many tracks seem more like an exercise in hip-hop basics than an actual song. As Eyedea states in "Now", the duo is "here to bring the music and the movement and the people all together now", and the idea of how they plan to use their lyrics and beats to change the world (especially the world that doubts their abilities) is revisited often during the album. These declarations, while estimable, get a little old after a while. I began to wish that E&A would either have fun with the album, or make it a serious foray into their lives, but stop telling us about it every step of the way.

That being said, some of the tracks are highly enjoyable, and give the listener a glimpse of what Eyedea can be at his best - an extremely gifted rapper with a unique take on life. Highlights include "Exhausted Love", "Act Right", a battle track that bounces with old-school samples, handclaps, and confident lyricism, the aforementioned "Now", in which Abilities' bass-heavy production complements an exceptional tempo-shifting verse from Eyedea, and "Star Destroyer", which features a strong guest appearance from Def Jux MC Carnage, whose gritty flow steals the track. Unfortunately, some tracks suffer from weak, uninteresting production ("E&A Day", "Glass") or bland lyricism ("Kept", "Paradise"). Abilities doesn't seem to bring much personality to the turntables, at least not on the same level as contemporaries like Mr. Dibbs or RJD2. Most of the tracks on this album do very little to cement his position in the underground ranks.

While my admittedly high expectations weren't met, I did enjoy the album; it's just not one I'm going to pull out very often. I know there's plenty of talent here, but I can't find enough I really connect with. It's easy to say this duo just needs to mature more, but E&A was supposed to find them finally coming into their own sound. This could be as good as it gets.


Issue 22, April 2004

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