New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
Mr. Envi' has been able to roll with the punches for over a decade now as the CEO of Southern Stisles Records, seeing a number of prior releases fall to the wayside. Such lessons in trial and error have helped him to retool and reassess his strategy, resulting in the release of the Kollaborationz album. Sticking with the belief that regional success must come before national recognition, Southern Stisles continues to hold it down for Louisiana, featuring a handful of hometown rappers on this release. As the label boss steps into the booth to spit a few bars and produce some tracks, it's clear that he wears many hats.
Mr. Envi' shares the production duties with JTL, one of several guest rappers on the album. The beats are sparse in structure throughout the release, featuring bass pad punches and ice cold snares. Synthesized melodies tend to drive the instrumentals with low tones underneath that mimic the main harmony, as on the album's opening track "Pretendas." JTL and Mr. Envi' drop lines that call out the fakers amongst those who can not only talk big, but walk the walk as well. More bars regarding stacking papers and the daily grind can be heard on "What They Want" as pompous horns land hard on the rhythm. The collective lyrical flow has less to do with double meanings and metaphors and everything to do with hard posturing and bragging writes. It's a one-trick pony that gallops its way through most of the tracks, but Mr. Envi' never promised anyone a life-changing manifesto.
However, Kollaborationz is not without its tender moments. "Don't Wait
" offers poignant reflections over mournful strings and digitized hand claps, pondering the fleeting nature of life. One line suggests that "we ain't promised tomorrow, not even promised tonight," a sobering reminder of the fragility of everyday living. This song along with "Just Chill" are easily the album's strongest tracks, tapping into common situations and creating selections with staying power. "Just Chill" deals with relationship struggles over solemn piano riffs, isolated rim shots and cascading chimes. Each rapper's verse conveys their respective frustration and Mr. Envi's dark production fits their narratives like a tailor-made suit.
The rest of the album plays into the usual trappings of pimp philosophies and ghetto commandments. "Sho' Ya Money" endorses the age old practice of ladies turning tricks for cash flow over orchestra hits and artificial horns while "Keep It Poppin'" represents for the thug life with gun talk and open threats. A basic piano riff rides a minimal locked groove that's littered with guttural screams and keyboard generated brass, all of it designed to play loud at the clubs. "Close Ya Mouth" delivers some interesting contrast between the obscenity-laced lyrics and the tender instrumentation. While Mr. Envi' and Mr. Bush talk about guys that drive nice cars while living in run-down apartments, the backing track pops with plucked strings and rubbery funk chords that fade into nothingness. "Let It Be Known" plays the same card, working with gentle harp notes and muted organ parts while JTL briefly reminisces about catching gridiron glory before picking up the microphone to rap.
As "What They Want" is revisited with more local talent at the album's conclusion, it would appear that Kollaborationz runs out of stream about halfway through. Although there are more stories to tell than are presented here, Mr. Envi' and company seem content to toe the line. While songs like "Don't Wait
" and "Just Chill" hint that they are capable of so much more, this release is overrun with the same old street stories, but no different way to express them. Every album doesn't need to be a deep concept album, but Kollaborationz barely delivers on the few beats and rhymes that were committed to tape.
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)