In continuing my exploration of the history of I Self Devine, I present a review of the “Return Of The Travellahs” album. I wanted to confirm some details, so I sent I Self Devine some notes and he came thru with a few quotes to shed some extra light on things, which give some insight on not only how the "Return Of The Travellahs" album came together, but how that coincides with the Dynospectrum project. You’ll find his contributions bolded and in quotes below…
Before finishing their “So Deep I Never Fell” tape, The Micranots had gone thru some substantial growth, trials, and tribulations. They had been successful in cementing themselves in the Atlanta Underground scene, making an undeniable mark. Yet, in the process, Truth Maze left Atlanta back to Minneapolis, resulting in I Self Devine assuming full control of the vocal duties. I Self Devine met this presented challenge head on and with steadfast determination, dominating presence and elevated consciousness.
“Kool Ak had to convince me to helm the controls dolo on the mic, as this was my first foray into the solo realm since 1988. To feel confident in my new position I went back to the lab and studied KRS 1 and Doug E Fresh, two dudes who I felt controlled the mic as soloist.”
However, before fully exploring all of that newfound creative energy, I Self Devine also returned to the Twin Cities. It was actually just blocks away from where I’m writing this now that he wrote the bulk of the material that would become “Return Of The Travellahs”, while he was living on 27th and Hennepin. Also, during his time back in the Twin Cities he began to further build his relationship with the Headshots collective. In fact, it was on a promo run with the Headshots crew that he was playing some early demos from “Return Of The Travellahs” which prompted Beyond (a.k.a Musab) to invite I Self Devine to become a part of the Dynospectrum. Those recordings sessions began not long after that day…
“At that time Gene Poole hadn’t joined the group it was just Musab, Slug and I. He came in five or six songs into the recording process.”
Meanwhile in Atlanta, Kool Akiem was determined to complete the next Micranots project and started to apply pressure to I Self Devine to finish “Return Of The Travellahs". I Self collected his thoughts and lyrics, with his sites set back to Atlanta, the travels continued...
“He (Kool Akiem) sent me a contract saying that he needed me back in Atlanta in a few months. If I didn’t return and we got picked up (Signed) I would be penalized and would have to forfeit a portion of my half of the signing bonus. By this time the Dynospectrum had demo-ed the bulk of the album and then some. As a result of this ultimatum we rushed to record the (Dynospectrum) album. I left shortly after the album was recorded. I wasn’t present for the mastering sessions. It was the ultimatum that prevented the Dyno to blossom and tour beyond the album…”
Kool Akiem had really started to define his production style. The drums are crunchy and dusty, with just the subtle amount of crispiness. Assortments of sampled sounds provide a range of ill moods and satisfying textures. In addition, a series of intriguing dialog sketches, often of an outer-worldly intellect, are sprinkled thru out to tie the album together.
There are a wealth of highlights, starting with the first song “Slaves” and in particular the opening line, “Do you want slaves making this happen?/Mindless rapping, timeless art forms built from mind tapping/Slave energy, communicating thru code/Now slaves embody styles, hollow souls, trails of barcodes.”
“Emotions” is a track that I Self Devine specifically cited as a key song on this album for him. For the vocal parts, Kool AK delivers a stripped down beat of pure drums with a minimal bassline, allowing an open playing field for I Self Devine to get intricate and inventive with the subject matter and flow. He’s dropping heavy gems from the moment he clicks the mic on, but there’s this point half-way thru the final verse where he offers a slight pause and then proceeds to go into one of the vocal peaks on the album, “City resident, blasting verbal eloquent/Universal villagers sound the deadly unit, excellent/God student, improving my style, rare/Get knocked the f**k out like slap boxing with a bear/Claws all up in your dome like the cycles of breathing/Concentrating on whatever’s happening for the evening/True’s my meaning, we solidify our strength/Moving up the ranks, infinite memory banks/Fools change like the season, unseen the reason/Some fall good, others fall short what they believe in/Hectic fire burns the unaware/But the innocent walk thru hell without a care…”
To the untrained ear it may not be easily evident that “Grand Imperial” is a tribute to the DJ skills of Kool Akiem. I Self Devine maintains usage of colorful, though often grim, language and abstract mentality. He seamlessly weaves Hip Hop slang and DJ terminology with war jargon, spirituality, and a host of other seemingly irrelevant topics that he successful bends to his needs, resulting in it all making perfect sense. Later in the album, the track “Mathematics” has the same lyrics as “Grand Imperial”. Based on the sound of it, I would guess it was an early demo version of the track.
The inside credits suggests there was a plan to release “Every Devil” on vinyl. The track has a bit of a feel-good vibe to it, which is somewhat offset by Ced Gee’s aggressive proclamation of, “Stomping every devil in sight!” Vocally, I Self Devine chooses to drift in and out of the subject presented by the song’s title and vocal sample. Instead, he follows the carefree feeling of the beat and goes on a semi-random voyage of style, word-linkage and rational thought.
There are a few parts of the lyrics on the album that have a stream of consciousness feel, which clearly reflect I Self’s earlier comment about needing to freestyle some portions. In any event, “Decapitation Free” and “The Dome” are both from a Micranots freestyle tape that they had put together earlier. These moments are a great testament to his off the dome skill level and it also reveals the rapid-fire manner of how his brain works, which also gives a glimpse into his writing style.
“Contemplate” is one of a few instrumental interludes on the album and it eventually became the backing track for the title song on their next project, the “Farward” EP (’99). With that in mind, two of the best tracks on “Return Of The Travellahs” (“141 Million Miles” and “Farward”), were plucked from here and reappeared on the “Farward EP” as well.
All in all, “Return Of The Travellahs” is a key piece in the Micranots history, packed with engaging lyrics, captivating production, interludes, instrumentals, and freestyles, totaling 19 tracks of raw Hip Hop. It was originally only released in a limited fashion on cassette tape, but was reissued on CD in 2003 on Rhymesayers. In closing, I wanted to ask I Self Devine about the science of the album’s title…
“The Return of the Travallahs” meant return of the Gods. Akiem came up with the title. It meant that we as Gods travel the earth and was representative of all the places we both have called home (LA, San Diego, Colorado, Minneapolis, Atlanta) and the respective work we’ve done in those places. The album was recorded in Minneapolis and mixed in Atlanta March 1996. I recorded the whole album in two hours all songs were one take with my oldest daughter running around in the studio. I had to free style a few tracks because I left one of my rhyme books at home.”
If you missed it, peep my review of a early Micranots Demo and the "So Deep I Never Fell' Tape HERE. And up next, the Dynospec….