After listening to an advance copy of Sub-Surface’s much anticipated debut album, The Others, for a week or two I found myself at their album release party, frothy mouthed and ready to finally purchase the real deal. Once unwrapped, eyeballed and tucked safely into my pocket I found my hand on Rhymewise37’s shoulder, telling him how “proud” I am of him and his group. It was creepy and downright awkward for both of us, but I had to do it. Simple face-to-face affection: the best review I could ever offer.
The time since has only seen my excitement for The Others increase. Doused with some of the thickest, often-grimiest beats I’ve heard since Das Efx’s Straight Up Sewaside, The Others is, from the excellent intro to the time capsule-ready bonus live cut, a fully developed, professional and entirely listenable addition to the artistically struggling hip-hop world. With its mix of solid production, labored vocals and backbone cuts courtesy of the always steady DJ Illiana Jonze, Sub-Surface’s debut is the first firm product of more than a decade of development. Rather than rush to the studio with every fleeting idea, SS and their producer friends took their time, studied their craft, perfected their inner-group dynamics and churned out an album for an entire subculture to cherish – given that folks outside of the Fortress hip-hop scene get the trickle.
Not to downplay their top notch beats and always-creative cuts, but SS as a unit have always been about stage performance; more specifically the once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Wise and Script. Though a great primer, Sub-Surface's debut EP, The Boombox Sampler, often felt a bit too much like a secondhand offering from a handful of their influences from the 1990s, specifically Camp Lo. The Others is the “giant step” John Coltrane and his cronies dreamed of: Two fully developed emcees with unique styles, a knack for words, breath control and energy and cadence for days. Script has very often been regarded as the most talented emcee in The Fortress, and while I won’t stand in the way of such a sound argument (his performances here are by far his best yet), it’d be criminal not to mention Wise’s star-making performance and leadership on The Others. Seamlessly switching moods from hyped to laid back, Wise has the personality, insight, natural skill, intellect and drive to be one of the greats, and The Others is his launching pad.
“I don’t even like that beat” claims producer EDS when asked about his wall-of-sound production on the track “Mundane.” Providing two beats, the album’s artwork, vocal recording duties and general mentorship, EDS once again steps his craft up to the next level, in the process holding onto the Fortress crown for the time being. Former Chain of Chaos member Illastrate also provides three beats, including the beautiful “Back When.” Seven other beats come by way of Indianapolis artists Enock Root and DJ K-Tel, both of whom happen to be members of Sub-Surface’s brother group, Nearest Nova. K-Tel’s “The Long Haul,” which features Tony2Tone, nearly steals the entire show with its mellow bop-drop vibe and timeless moods. Enock Root single-handedly sums up the sound of The Others with his six offerings, many of which could easily go head to head with 9th Wonder or even Just Blaze’s best work. Mark my words, Enock Root should, could and hopefully will be a star before he goes grey. His Kanye West-influenced production works only because it’s just as good we West’s. Mark ‘em.
It’d be too easy to call The Others another product in the family tree line of The Native Tongues and Rawkus Records. Sub-Surface are all over the place lyrically – offering their two-way insights on everything from the state of hip-hop, to religion, to everyday struggles and (just because) partying. Proper lateral sound references would include Between a Rock & a Hard Place by the Artifacts, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing by Black Sheep, Scorpion Circles by Genelic & Memphis Reigns, Train of Thought by Reflection Eternal, The Listening by Little Brother, ’93 Till Infinity by Souls of Mischief and, whether I like to admit it or not, the finer points of Kanye West’s catalog. Not bad company.
After a dozen-plus listens I wrote Sub-Surface a note asking if they needed a manager. I also sent them a checklist of sorts for places to send promotional copies to. It’s not that I don’t think Wise, Script and Jonze aren’t on top of their careers; I’m just not convinced that they – or anyone, really – have yet realized how good The Others really is. Every time I see Wise he seems to be wearing a Hieroglyphics hoodie – the guy wears his superfan status, literally, on his chest – the irony is that The Others made me forget all about my Third Eye.
Copyright 2006 Ad Media Inc.