Album Review: Brother Beatbox - Vol. III

Not since Common’s "I Used to Love H.E.R.”, have many tracks come close to capturing the “love letter to hip hop” concept without coming off as trite or cliché. However, Vol. III, the latest effort from Brother Beatbox would have made hip hop proud to call the UK producer her lover.

“Mic wherever, we tied together” featured MC, Joker Starr, declares over soul-infused lead single, “Pen and Paper”. What immediately stands out about this album is the lush instrumentation. Lighter-than-air violin phrases dance over thunky bass lines, creating a symphony that dares listeners to get bored.

Brother Beatbox’s layered style nods to Golden Era sampling technique, and the psychedelic trot of his guitar riffs could be equally at home on the Shaft motion picture soundtrack. However, don’t expect to hear anything too familiar on this album. Perhaps as a result of his many years as a drummer for metal bands (of all things!) Brother Beatbox values live musicianship very highly. Thus he has made it his mission not to sample the work of other artists. Every ‘boom bap’ of the drums, every ‘wow-wow’ of the guitar is an original recording. Instead of creating a patchwork of electronic instruments and borrowed voices, Brother Beatbox either played himself or recruited musicians to record especially for the project.

With so many influences colliding though, there comes the risk of overwhelming the listener. “Pick the Pace Up” for example feels cluttered production wise and left this reviewer feeling wary about what was to follow. However, right around track 3, Vol. III strikes a melodious sweet spot amid the hip hop/jazzy/funky vibe it’s going for.  

With Beatbox busy on the boards, Vol. III enlists over a dozen MCs to narrate the project. Mikey T’s chant-worthy chorus on “New Beginnings” is sure to make the track a live show favorite while Lego’s rapid fire flow on “Harpnod” will be a reason to hit replay. That said, though the themes of the album are ones that are easy to vibe with--authenticity, growth, redemption of the genre--certain tracks fall a bit to the side of corny. However, the sincerity with which they are delivered is a redeeming factor.

What makes the execution of this album truly impressive though, is that despite a multitude of voices and styles, Vol. III manages to deliver a cohesive message. Enter, “These Hills are Alive”-- Vol. III’s lyrical crowning jewel and the track during which the album truly becomes a love letter.  “Hip hop is the pictures in the wind/hear the drum of the earth, words of the water,” MC Lakai swoons. Vol. III is Brother Beatbox’s vision of what hip hop should be--and it has nothing to do with the “chains and watches/skeezers running around topless” obsession by which his peers often operate.  

Vol. III could be the start of a brand new type of hip hop mindset. With a groove-rap aesthetic and lyrical prowess that begs their contemporaries to raise the bar, Brother Beatbox and his artillery of spitters are optimistic, yet hold no punches.

Download Vol. III by Brother Beatbox via Band Camp 

- Syron Townsend, Contributor