One thing about the pace and volume of music that comes out these days is that sometimes you pass by an album or a mixtape or a track that doesn’t grab you right away; it’s so easy to just move on to the next one that projects that deserve or demand more time from the listener just don’t get the credit due to them. It happens all the time, especially in hip-hop, where lyricism and wordplay necessarily demand a higher level of concentration from the listener when, frankly, sometimes that level just doesn’t exist during the workday or the workout, or wherever you happen to be listening to that particular project.
Which is what happened to me when I first got my hands on SuaveHaus, the collaborative project between Boston’s Charmingly Ghetto and Atlanta’s J-Coop and Abib Jahleel, three MCs whose technical quality is evident but who don’t get the same type of crazy hype that the major label guys command. In short, if you’re not paying attention — and I admit I lapsed on that for a minute — the tape could slip through the cracks. When it dropped August 9th I downloaded it, gave it less of a listen than it deserved, and moved on to the next one.
What I heard the first time was solid, even great, production, and somewhat scattered verses that didn’t fit together as a unit, that offered up clever couplets but few cohesive storylines, as if each MC was adding their own bits and flavors to a central idea that wasn’t fully formulated. But after going back and listening again — following an “oh yeah! I remember this!” moment while scrolling through my iTunes — that opinion is the opposite of what this crew has achieved.
Their stated objective was to pay homage of sorts to the type of Southern hip-hop that oozed with the funk and soul samples that that region bred in the seventies, and the best way to describe the soundscape the trio has created is to take a look at the name drops that are sprinkled all over the tape. Talib Kweli, Common, Kanye West, Nas, New Edition, N.O.R.E., Biggie and Pharrell are all name-checked alongside Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Barry White, and Curtis Mayfield. To compare those two groups of artists is to put an emphasis on storytelling on top of a dedication to smooth grooves, adventurous horns, and social consciousness. That is the palette that producers EvilDewer, Introspective Minds, Str8outdaden, DFrank, and Keith Charles_Spacebar strove for and achieved, and that provides the cohesion on top of which the trio of MCs — along with a couple special guest verses, most notably from Truth — were able to spin their tales.
The immediacy of the first two tracks — “Oh Lawd” and “Sheetloneenknowyet” respectively — kicks the project off right, but it’s J-Coop’s “Mack Man’s Lude” that lays out just what the whole mixtape is about, namely bringing together talented people to pool creativity and create something special to the benefit of everyone. “So you just keep on pushin and keep on strivin / and we gonna keep on livin and keep on survivin / but we ain’t tryin to get by / we tryin to get over, we tryin to get above/but the only way we’re gonna do this is if we do this together” he half raps/half speaks over a stuttering Str8outdaden beat, outlining the ideal on a solo track.
And if “Mack Man’s Lude” serves as the mixtape’s thesis statement, then “Vox Populi” serves as its fulcrum, the execution of the idea that Coop pushes (with its hook of “you can’t stop the people”), and simultaneously its standout track. The production — by far the simplest on the otherwise-complex tape, with big, Led-Zeppelin’s-“When-The-Levee-Breaks”-esque drums backing a two-chord piano vamp and a four-note saxophone line — allows all three to shine. “Airborne” and “Once Upon A Rhyme” emerge as some of the most consistent stories, with tackling the friends, acquaintances, and situations each left behind while pushing for something more (maybe not coincidentally, both include impressive turns from the aforementioned Truth).
The tape’s closer, “C.R.E.A.M. (SuaveHaus Resurrection)” — which, despite its name, is nothing remotely similar to the Wu-Tang coming-of-age story spun by Raekwon and Inspectah Deck — might offer up the best individual line in a project that is admittedly full of them. The last line of the track, and of the mixtape as a whole, belongs to CG, who offers it up as the myriad horns seem to be reaching a breaking point — “Yolo be the truth, but it ain’t the motto / better get your rest, you’re gonna need it for tomorrow / to face the sun strong when you rise / empowered by its warmth and inspired by its size.” It’s a line that might be the best summation of the whole project, the final point to J-Coop’s thesis statement: it’s true you only live once, but it’s a big world out there, so you better gear up if you wanna make it through. SuaveHaus is another step in the right direction.