Album Review | Iceberg Theory & August Fanon – Rinpoche

This album was released on March 5th this year. I first heard about Iceberg Theory earlier this year when he was recommended to me by D. Lanham. I checked out some of his recent material at the time, and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. I’ve actually written about him before in one of my Best Singles of the Week posts. I still wouldn’t say that I’m super familiar with him as an artist, but I’m certainly intrigued. He seems to be an incredibly unique MC when it comes to his lyrical content. As you can probably tell from the title and cover of this album, he’s covering shit that most other rappers aren’t even aware of. Hell, I barely know anything about Tibetan scriptures and Buddhism. I had no idea who Trungpa was until I googled him after finding out that he was the person on the album cover. I didn’t even know what the word Rinpoche meant, or that it existed. The album is dedicated to a poet named Isaac Kirkman, who passed away at the beginning of the year. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, and I believe that one of the best results of consuming entertainment is being exposed to new ideas, so I’m really looking forward to checking this out. August Fanon is an artist I’m personally more familiar with, but I’m still not really that well versed in his material. I just know that he’s a relatively well known producer in the underground. I mostly know of him due to his work with Armand Hammer. I think the cover art for Nas’ unpopular 2018 album was stolen from one of his albums too, so that’s interesting. I don’t know how much I’m gonna enjoy this album, but I’m positive that it’ll be one of the more unique releases that I hear in 2020, so I’m excited. Every track is produced by August Fanon, except where noted.

1. Sit with Guru produced by Iceberg Theory

This is a pretty cool intro. I really love the instrumental here. I don’t know where that sample is from, but it kinda reminds me of The Beach Boys. This is coming from someone who has barely heard any of The Beach Boys’ music though, and I legitimately don’t think I know the names of any of their songs. Towards the second half of the track, an audio clip of someone speaking about “spiritual materialism” comes in. I’m not sure who it is, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s either Trungpa or Isaac Kirkman. My money’s on Trungpa though. This is a dope intro.

2. Crazy Wisdom

The production on this track is really nice. The sample sounds like something Jay Electronica would rhyme over to me. Honestly, I was kinda worried when I heard this song because it reminded me of Mach-Hommy a little bit. Just the way it sounded reminded me of him. The main difference is that this didn’t put me to sleep. I’m not really crazy about Iceberg Theory’s vocal delivery here, and at times it sounds like his voice is being drowned out by the production, but I’m sure that was intentional.
Crazy wisdom, living in the devil’s princedom
I live for eons, eternity and then some
The lines I can actually make out and understand are really cool. The super underground sound isn’t really that interesting to me though. I like the production because it kinda sounds like something Planet Asia would rhyme over. However, Iceberg Theory’s flow and delivery kinda remind me of Tha God Fahim, and if you know me you know that’s not a good thing. Thankfully, unlike Tha God Fahim, Iceberg Theory’s lyricism is actually really interesting and cool, so the good outweighs the bad for me. The percussion here is really light and minimalistic. It doesn’t sound like August added any drums that weren’t already present in the original sample. Overall, I think it’s a pretty good track. I kinda wish it was a bit more interesting sonically, but I like the sample a lot, and the writing here is really tight.

3. The Myth of Freedom

This beat is jazzier than that of the preceding song. The saxophone loop sounds really nice. Iceberg Theory’s delivery here is thankfully far more appealing to me than it was on the previous track.
Verisimilitude, sinners are crude
This world is hollow to the core
You still shimmering true
I genuinely think that’s the first time I’ve heard a rapper use the word “verisimilitude.” Maybe Aesop Rock used it at some point, but I feel like I would have remembered that. The vocals here aren’t drowned out at all on this song, but I’m just not familiar with some of the words he’s saying. I used to struggle with Aesop Rock’s music for the same reason, but he’s not as difficult to decipher as he used to be in my opinion. Anyway, not only is the content of the lyrics really interesting and unique, but the way he’s rhyming is also just really impressive. Even if you don’t give a shit about what he’s saying, the rhyme schemes are still dense.
Use this resurrection if you live in a tomb
I saw the future, made the city a ruin
Wild with this crazy wisdom you could pity the fool
Could be in space stations watching zinnias bloom
While on the farm cooking venison and cinnamon stews
I seen life diminish and hope this work pay dividends too
Made me free, delivered to who?
I probably misquoted some of those lines, but as you can see he’s rhyming his ass off, and I didn’t even start at the beginning of that scheme. There are a lot more bars that were part of the rhyme. I kinda have my own interpretation of what this song is supposed to be about, but I don’t wanna say it because I’m afraid of sounding dumb lol. I think it’s about being a slave to the workforce, but I could be wrong. Maybe the way I’m putting it isn’t exactly right, but it seemed like it was about not feeling truly free due to having to work for money and sustenance. I could be wrong, but fuck it. I’m not really into the singing at the end of the track, but that’s just a nitpick. This shit is dope to me.

4. Milarepa Era

This track has a really nice instrumental; I liked it a lot when I first heard it, although it does get a little old by the time the song is over. It has kind of a cheerful, luxurious sound to me. I feel like I’m in a ballroom at a fancy hotel whenever I listen to it. Iceberg Theory’s voice sounded very, very familiar as soon as this album started, but I couldn’t figure out who he was reminding me of until I got to this track. I eventually realized that he reminds me of The Alchemist. Their voices and deliveries sound very similar to me. As far as the actual rapping here, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really understand a lot of it. I feel like I just don’t know a lot of the words he was using. He said a lot of things that I feel like I struggle to appreciate as much as I could if I was more familiar with certain concepts. I definitely like the song though. The actual rhymes along with the production are the main appeal of this particular track for me. I think this is pretty good.

5. Gangshar Wangpo featuring BLESSEDASSISTANT

I think the production on this song is really cool. It’d be really interesting to see how exactly August crafts his instrumentals because it’s hard for me to tell what’s a sample and what’s made from scratch. I’m really not into the singing on this track, but the lyrics are at least kinda cool. I thought it would just be on the intro, but he sings throughout the entire song, and I really don’t like it at all unfortunately. I’m not exactly sure what BLESSEDASSISTANT’s contribution to this song was, but if I had to guess I’d say it was the saxophone in the background. The instrumental here is really nice, but I unfortunately just don’t care for Iceberg Theory’s vocal performance at all. I wouldn’t call this a bad song because there are aspects of it that I really like, but as a whole I didn’t enjoy this. I think it’s mediocre overall.

6. The Jew in the Lotus featuring Oldsoulsalaam

I really love the instrumental on this track. The jazzy keyboard sounds great. Honestly, I think it’s one of the best beats on the whole album. The opening performance from Iceberg Theory was real nice.
They sellin’ nonviolence, but I kept the blade polished
‘Cause I only see doom like the economists
In this culture saw the wisdom or knowledge, it’s all rotten
I know the hell that awaits us is bottomless
I took the time to focus on the mind, expand consciousness
I think I might’ve misquoted a couple of those lines. Some of them are easier to understand than others. I wasn’t familiar with Oldsoulsalaam before hearing this track, but I ended up enjoying his verse. I think his flow is more enjoyable than that of Iceberg Theory, but his delivery, pronunciation, and delivery aren’t as good in my opinion. Overall, I think this is one of the better songs. I kinda wish the beat had a little more to it because the loop gets pretty old by the time the song is over, but as a whole I enjoyed this. It’s a dope track.

7. Paro Taktsong

This track has a relatively soulful instrumental. It sounds really cheerful. Honestly, Iceberg Theory killed this shit.
I heard the first will be the least
Carried on the back of bird and beast
Faith became certainty
Acerbic speech, bleak and herd the deceased
Again, I probably misquoted a line or two there. He’s rhyming his ass off though. He really went ham with that scheme.
Spent about two weeks in the infirmary
On the cusp of life and death, one step from eternity
Supreme, tertiary genes
I think back before time when universe was a dream
He managed to keep this rhyme scheme going throughout his entire verse. This is easily one of the best songs on the album in my opinion. I think it has some of the most impressive rapping, and I love the production. This shit is dope as hell.

8. Red Alice featuring Tokyo Cigar

This has one of my favorite instrumentals on the album. It’s pretty dark, yet jazzy at the same time. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Tokyo Cigar before hearing this song, unless I’m forgetting something. I really loved his performance here though.
Holy madonna visage
The pain never learned forgiveness
The self-hate was livid
Stood rigid; body cold, frigid
Sad day when she broke the upper limits
Iceberg Theory’s verse here was also really fantastic. I honestly can’t decide whose performance I prefer.
When substance became sustenance
6 million ways to die, the high’s numberless
It kinda seemed like Tokyo Cigar’s verse was longer, but I don’t know; I might be tripping. Honestly, I like this track even more than the preceding song. The production is fantastic, and both of the verses were really interesting and well written. This shit is dope as hell.

9. Chopping Onions with the Kartika

The production here feels a lot jazzier and more chill than that of most of the other tracks. The entire song is pretty much just one verse, but it’s very good.
One day you’ll decide if the illusion’s enough
Fire back, the shooter ducked
Prudence is tough
Some games, loosin’ is luck
It’s a pretty straightforward song in terms of the structure. I think Iceberg’s flow here was pretty nice, and of course the lyrics are pretty interesting. I don’t have any gripes with this track in particular, but nothing about it really stands out enough to blow me away. I definitely enjoyed this quite a bit though. It’s a dope song.

10. The Bard in Bardo

This song has another one of the best instrumentals on the project in my opinion. The loop itself sounds very chill, jazzy, and almost ethereal in a way. The percussion that eventually comes in is very hard hitting though, and will most likely give you the coveted involuntary head nod. Iceberg Theory’s juxtaposition of Dao and the Dow Jones was pretty cool. Once again, nothing about this track truly blows me away to push it to the next level of quality, but I don’t have any serious gripes. It’s a relatively short track, so there’s just one verse. A lot of lines had at least one word that I couldn’t understand or have just never heard of before, which is why I didn’t really quote any bars here. I enjoyed this track though. It’s pretty dope.

11. Beginner’s Mind

The instrumental on this track is alright to me. I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a bad beat, but it’s just not particularly memorable. I think the selling point here is definitely Iceberg Theory’s rapping. This song probably has his most aggressive flow on the entire project to be honest.
That nutmeg, cinnamon & clove
Visits with the pope, when in Rome, when in Rome
Poison in the wine, now it’s the prince’s throne
Stood above clouds, saw the mist below
I really like his rapping on this song, but unfortunately nothing else about the track is entertaining enough for me to return to it. The production’s a little dull to me, and I’m not a fan of Iceberg’s singing on the outro. This definitely isn’t a bad song, but it just lacks replay value for me personally. I’d say it’s above average though.

12. Skillful Means

This is another track that I don’t really see myself coming back to. I think it’s about on par with the preceding track in terms of quality, but for the opposite reason. In other words, I really like the production here, but Iceberg Theory’s performance wasn’t really that entertaining to me. The lyrics were pretty cool, but the super slow paced flow along with the repetitive delivery just wasn’t fun to listen to to be honest. The production is really dreamy and smooth, so that’s cool. I was hoping that the song would get more interesting as it progressed, but there’s not a lot going on here. The verse is cool lyrically though. I also thought the sample of who I assume is Trungpa speaking on the outro was very interesting. I wish the way the song ended wasn’t so abrupt though. They could’ve at least faded this chill, dreamy beat out instead of just cutting it off like that. I definitely like this more than the preceding song, but it’s still not something I’d return to in the future. It’s a solid track though, and definitely worth checking out.

13. Sakadagami (Once Returner) DEMO featuring Sleep Sinatra produced by Iceberg Theory

This track has another very melodic, jazzy, chill instrumental. The theme of Buddhist enlightenment is pretty cool. It’s kinda hard for me to understand a lot of the lyrics because the beat kinda drowns out the vocals. It’s not completely inaudible, but I don’t know if there are any full quatrains that I can hear and be able to transcribe accurately. I know he said something about Confucius, and I think he mentioned Judas too, although it kinda sounded like Judith. I’m not sure who Judith is. Maybe I just heard it wrong. Oh wait… Okay, I just looked it up. Apparently there’s a Book of Judith in some versions of the bible. I forgot catholics have a weird version of the bible. Anyway, the second verse from Sleep Sinatra was pretty cool, but I honestly think I preferred Iceberg Theory’s performance. Overall, the song is pretty good. I mainly enjoyed this for the esoteric lyricism from Iceberg Theory, but the production was really nice, and Sleep Sinatra did his thing as well.

14. Master of the Deck

This track has one of the better instrumentals on the album in my opinion. I also think it has some of the most interesting lyricism on the project personally.
It’s preordained, you said you had five years and you had zero
But never live to fear though, death is near, so
Keep your vision clear, wise beyond years
It’s said that reality was not as it appeared
I’m pretty sure he’s rapping about Isaac Kirkman here. This track contains audio of Kirkman reciting a poem, and it sounds really cool. The way Kirkman’s reciting this poem just sounds really… I don’t know what word to use to describe it… I guess, “pensive?” Does that make sense? I think it does, but I’m not sure. Anyway, this is actually one of my favorite songs on the project. I think the production is really great, and the verse from Iceberg Theory was awesome. The sample of Isaac Kirkman also ended up being far more enjoyable than I could’ve predicted. This shit is dope as hell.

15. Dorje Kasung (Mortal Sword) featuring Saga Asad

This song is named after a group formed by Trungpa, which was established in order to help spread the Shambhala teachings. From what I understand, Shambhala is a form of Buddhism. This might be kind of a meaningless, empty comparison, but the production on this track surprisingly reminded me of Kanye West believe it or not. It also kinda reminds me of the instrumental from Kendrick Lamar’s third entry in his The Heart series. It just sounds very grandiose and soulful. The first verse is performed by Saga Asad, who I’d never heard of before listening to this. He did a fantastic job though; I love his verse.
Don’t be like them guys who end up marginalized
You see, the devil is the father of lies
I want my parts of the pies
I lift my head to the sky and ask god to put my hand on the prize
I think him and Iceberg Theory have a really nice contrast between their voices too. It sounds great when Iceberg comes in right behind him.
Nihilistic and cynical
A light beyond the spectrum that a prism can show
Gave up my religion ‘cause the symbols were broke
Grasp the root of archetype that the image provoke
This is easily one of the best songs on the album, and a really great way to end the project. There’s really not a single aspect of this song that I don’t like. Both of the verses are great, and I think this beat is awesome. Iceberg really killed this shit. The song is dope af honestly.

This is a very good album. I have a few gripes, but I ended up really enjoying it overall. My favorite aspect of this entire album is just the writing from Iceberg Theory. There’s nothing generic about the lyricism here. He’s not saying the same shit everyone else is saying. He clearly knows a lot of philosophical shit that I’ve never even heard of. My knowledge of Buddhism is incredibly surface level. I only learned about it in my history class for like half a semester in 7th grade, so even if I did know what the word “rinpoche” meant at the time, I’ve forgotten by now. Alright, now I’ll get into all the nitpicks I have. This album just sounds super underground. It’s a very specific type of underground sound though. It sounds very DIY. The mixing sounds super compressed and kinda rough. It’s not the kinda lo-fi mixing that makes the vocals inaudible. I don’t know how to describe it. I think “tinny” is the word I’m looking for. I feel like if everything sounded smoother I’d’ve enjoyed this project much more. I think they went for that sound intentionally though. Iceberg Theory’s delivery was pretty unremarkable to me for the most part, and his flow didn’t really stand out much either. It’s mainly his lyricism that kept me hooked. He sang a few times on this album, and I never really enjoyed it, but it’s far from the worst I’ve heard. Some of the beats were less entertaining than others, but I think they were pretty good for the most part. So yeah, this shit is very good, and I definitely think it’s worth checking out if you’re into underground Hip Hop. Obviously if you only listen to Trap or Pop Rap you’re probably not gonna like this, but if you’re into the more obscure side of things you’ll most likely appreciate this. It’s a dope album. Check it out.

SCORE: 76 (B)