01 May 2014

Soon You'll Understand (Review) by Johnathan McCumber

Soon You'll Understand (Review) by Johnathan McCumber

Kelen “B Hyphen” Conley is many things: writer, thinker, wrestling fanatic, nerd, and artist just to name a few. Add to this list of descriptors: father, as Hyphen has just become one, not just of a baby girl, but of an album.

Soon You’ll Understand is a project that was oft spoken about by Hyphen, mentioned many times in the same breath as claims of retirement, but it kept getting pushed back. Nearing in on the birth of his daughter, it was only fitting, you’d think, that B Hyphen’s “labor of love” finally had the opportunity to see the light of day.

There’s much to say about this project, and since it is B Hyphen's official first album, I think it’s only right to give track by track thoughts.

The project kicks off with what is personally one of the favorite opening beats I’ve heard on a hip-hop release, on “A Journey of Great Power and Responsibility”. Produced by 227 Digitalmasterz, one of the old school monikers of the widely known and respected DJ Monstalung, this beat employs a sick sample that knocks and rides smooth all at the same time. Hyphen does a nice job of opening the album, bringing you the everyday man sensibility that I personally feel is one of his best qualities as an emcee. The highlight lyrically is the standout chorus where Hyphen spits “I wanna take you higher, you have to understand. To get to this moment it took everything I had”. He’s putting his heart down on the track from the start.

Track 2, “BETTER WITH BACON” is produced by Big Chie…..cough cough, B.A.C.O.N. Beats. Potentially the illest beat this man has ever heard from the multi-talented B.A.C.O.N., it gives the opportunity for an emcee to go the hell off in a serious way. Hyphen starts off each verse with a common thread by stating that “Everyone wanna be down with the Hyphen”. On this banger, I would have to agree. Hyphen rode the beat in an excellent way. I’m sold.

Profit Money checks in on the next track, “NO ROOM FOR SQUARES”. A nice beat for sure and it shows that Profit was not trying to be outdone. While nice though, this beat may have gotten repetitive if not rescued by a stellar chorus by Hyphen. Hyphen flexed a different flow on the verses that doesn’t work AS WELL as the chorus but it’s not to say that it doesn’t work. It’s just an adjustment that I had to get used to. Props for the versatility.

REWIND may be one of the couple best tracks on B Hyphen's entire project. Charleston maestro 95 checks in with a laid back soundscape that just begs for you to drift with it. Hyphen utilizes this beat by dropping a storytelling joint relating the exploits of a young buck trying to get it in with a variety of females and how it doesn’t always go as a man may hope for it to. Yet another on point chorus, dope flow, nice show of personality, and inflection used to step the track up from normal story joint to one you can feel yourself witnessing first hand.

FIT JAMMIN features the second and far superior Profit Money production on this album. The listener is treated to an upbeat party jam that honestly came as a surprise from both B Hyphen and Profit Money. Employing a sped up flow on the verses and an uncharacteristic drawl on the chorus, B Hyphen steps far from the zone that his listeners are used to hearing him in. Experimentation can at times fail and can at times lead to pure entertainment and blaring success. I for one am a big fan of this track and would like to see more tracks like this coming from Hyphen. This was a standout.

Unfortunately, the project hits a speed bump with the next few tracks on Soon You’ll Understand, LEGACY and LIMITED EDITION. The problem for this listener wasn’t the lyrics as they stick with the general theme of a real glimpse into the inner workings of an emcee that wears his heart on his sleeve. The problem was that these were the two darkest and most plodding beats on the project. This has a negative side effect as the beats brought what might have been otherwise nice lyrics down. It made the tracks FEEL uninspired. I find myself skipping these two tracks every single time I throw this album on for a listen. As a side note, LIMITED EDITION was the only track on the entire album that had a feature, by the typically dope lyricist, Thack. His appearance on this album not only didn’t sit right with me but is the least favorite effort I’ve EVER heard from Thack. My hope in the future is that he doesn’t employee this autotuned style and sticks to what makes him dope, the wittiness and insane flow.

SYU gets back on track with WINTERS LAMENT, a song that effectively pulls you into a mindstate of depression and longing for something that you miss so desperately. Even though I wasn’t there, I feel like I was right there in those travels and dying to get back to paradise. Personally, I would have enjoyed something to snatch me back out of the funk I was put in by the last 2 tracks, something more along the lines of FIT JAMMIN type of energy, so this track isn’t as ill as it could have been, suffering due to what came before it, but on its own stands as an effective emotion mover.

INDEPENDENT HEADSPACE is a track that I have mixed feelings on. Lyrically it is one of my favorite tracks on SYU, but there exists negative as well. An old ugly friend of B Hyphen's rears its head as Hyphen gets tripped up and hindered at moments by his flow. Whereas I wanted this tracks to flow effortless, it was hurt by attempts at times to fit the extra syllables in as opposed to reworking the thoughts and presenting them in a slightly different way.

To steal a line from B Hyphen's final track, WORLD WITHOUT A HYPHEN, “But now the moment's here, yes, we have arrived.” On one of the personal favorite tracks, Hyphen revisits the theme of whether he will be leaving the music scene and industry he so desperately loves but also hates at the same damn time. As a listener who is a fan of Scrubs, I must admit bias to hearing a beat that employed a sample of its theme song. Hyphen probably could have blabbered over the entire song and I would have still loved the beat. Luckily, he did the final track on his album justice. Trying to shelve my bias for a few minutes, I must say that the song did miss its mark at a few moments with flow and delivery, but it was more than made up for with Hyphen’s honesty, passion for the song, and again, not to sound like a broken record, but a great chorus.

As a reviewer, critic, hip-hop fan, and personal friend of B Hyphen, I argued the merits of writing a review, especially one so in depth about the possible culmination of his life’s work. Could I review the project without bias? Could I give honest criticism where it may bring disdain for my opinion? Could I review this project in a way that was both truthful and insightful? I feel, YES. Opinions are just that, opinions, and everyone’s are different. With that being said, let’s get onto my final thoughts where I'll touch upon the good AND the bad.

Soon You’ll Understand employs a who’s who of West Virginia master beat makers to give B Hyphen's project life, to help push Hyphen beyond his limits, and to even cause him to employ more versatility than has previously been seen in his many “non-album” releases. The soundscape chosen for Hyphen's project was truly one of the albums greatest strengths, although as mentioned earlier, it was not without faults. Track order could have been reworked to lead to an overall better flow of the album, however, the lead off and final tracks were perfectly chosen. Another strength of the album, and something that’s always been a strength of Hyphen’s, is being someone that’s easy to identify with. Hyphen is the everyman. He has real problems, struggles, doubts, insecurities, tragedies, and triumphs. You live them all through his music. While Hyphen employs a multitude of sports, pro wrestling, and comic references, lyrically, Hyphen is not trying to go over your head, leaving you to need to rewind to decipher what it is he’s saying. Hyphen's passion and emotion on this project bled through, and on most tracks, you could pick up easily on what Hyphen was likely feeling when composing his lyrics. Hyphen stepped out of his comfort zone, utilizing a variety of flows, deliveries, and rhyme patters which is to be admired as well.

On the negative end of things, and as I touched upon earlier, one of the biggest shortcomings of this project, and something that has been problematic at times for Hyphen in his career is flow and delivery. While greatly improved from the Thunderstorm Mixtape days, there are moments where the tripping upon the lyrics is very noticeable and it makes a fan, especially a knowledgeable one, say to themselves…."if he had just done this instead". Another small complaint is that while there was a variety of styles employed, there were times when it felt like the same themes and material was being retreaded. REWIND and FIT JAMMIN were a breath of fresh air for coming at things differently. Although this album was about B Hyphen's journey, you almost wish that he had gone off on a few more side roads.

Overall, you can dissect this project and break it down for its technicalities or you can sit back, enjoy, let yourself nod, and zone out to it. From a reviewer's point of view, this wasn’t perfect (but then again, what project is?), but as a listener, I found this album to be very enjoyable and one that has a number of tracks I’ve gone back to listen to numerous times. Soon You’ll Understand references B Hyphen's purported exit from this music scene, but I for one, hope that he sticks around. It seems that B Hyphen may really be onto something and maybe it’s he who is finally starting to “understand”.

1 comment:

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