Too much hip-hop music these days lacks creativity and imagination. Most MCs and groups flee true individuality as if it was a flesh-eating virus. Many feel the necessity to dumb down their subject matter and their musical backdrop so that it will please the lowest common denominator, lest they be labeled “backpacker music.” Which makes an innovative album like Willie Evans Jr.’s Introducin’ so refreshing: it’s unabashed “nerd rap.” Evans, both an accomplished MC and producer, peppers his lyrics with references to everything from Battlestar Galactica to You Can’t Do That On Television to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job to Mortal Combat. He spits his oft-kilter flow over a plethora of soul and jazz sample-filled tracks, almost all of which he produced himself. It rare to see an artist to relish in his own individuality, but Willie Evans enjoys “coming from a strange angle.” It suits him well, as Introducin’ is one of the best albums to drop so far in 2011.
It’s somewhat startling to watch the Jacksonville, Florida native build a whole musical world with just a mic and an MPC, but it’s something he’s gotten pretty good at. Willie Evans Jr. initially made his name as a member of Asamov (with Paten Locke, Jay One-Da, and Basic), whose excellent And Now album in 2005 helped put the Jacksonville hip-hop scene on the map. However, just as the group began making some noise, their momentum was halted by a lawsuit by the Isaac Asimov estate. The lawsuit lead the crew to change the name of their to The ABs (The Alias Brothers) and their record label at the time to cease distributing the album. But the roadblock didn’t impede Evans’ progress, as he has produced tracks for the likes of Akrobatik, Mr. Lif, Rasco, and Eddie Meeks. Evans released his first album, Communication, in 2007 as part of as part of the “Rawkus 50” promotion, and it ended up being one of the best albums of that pack. Now after hooking up with High Water Records, Willie Evans Jr. releases Introducin’, which even at the brief 35 minutes in length, makes a definitive artistic statement.
Introducin’ begins with a bang with the title track, which serves as one of a pair of mission statements for the album. Over a pulsing, uptempo organ stab, he explains what separates him from the pack of cookie cutter rappers and drops lines like, “You never spot another crew that rocks, yo, it’s no illusion/ I walk where there is no oxygen; Introducing!” “Nerd English” serves as the album’s other theme song, on which Evans belittles rappers fake thuggery while paining a picture of a “complicated nerd.” He flows, “Robotech, Tekken, Boba Fett, I’m betting most of these rap acts are lame bragging about their game on game of tags/And I don’t give a fuck if you’re cooking rocks/ I know cats that did that while playing SoulCalibur at crack spots” He later explains he only owns a gun to protect his family (but isn’t really a good shot) and how World of Warcraft saved his cousin from continuing with a life a crime.
Willie Evans doesn’t spend the entirety of Introducin’ just exhibiting his own nerdom. The infectious “Fisbawdup” discusses the frustration which drains him every day, from shady promoters to other emotional vampires, over an expertly chopped piano loop with soulful vocals sprinkled throughout. Another high point is “Take 2,” Evans’ tale of personal heartbreak and betrayal. Here he creates a track that is the flipside of “Chipmunk Soul” style-production, slowing the track until it’s almost unrecognizable. “CyberShiek Pt. 1 & 2” is another of the album’s highlights, as Willie kicks what rapidly has become his trademark “extracurricular spaced out” shit over of mellow, vocal-based soul samples (which also appears to be his specialty). And then tracks like “Mega,” and “Sidewalk Shit,” are just fly braggadocio type raps.
Willie Evans also makes sure that his crew gets their shine on Introducin’. On the aptly titled “Dumbtron,” Evans and his Dumbtron partner, Paten Locke, collaborate for a late ’80s-styled throwback pass-the-mic track. The two trade hyped verses over a chopped James Brown sample with well-placed vocal stabs for an all too short minute and a half. Evans and Locke are joined by the rest of their Asamov/ABs cohorts on the also aptly titled “A$amov,” where the crew describes the adversity they’ve faced in the form of the long grind to getting established, to the aforementioned lawsuit, which they are still pretty understandably bitter about. Evans closes the album with the ethereal “Moon Foot,” an almost Kool Keith-inspired tribute to all things space-related, made ever more effective by an airy flute-loop.
Triumphs of imagination like Introducin’ are few and far-between in this day and age. It’s respectful of its influences, but has its own identity. And it showcases an MC that’s comfortable being himself. You’d hope this album earns Evans and crew more work, both on the production end and as a lyrical collaborator. If nothing else, it has me REALLY looking forward to the Dumbtron album, which I’m hoping will drop before the year is out.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/07-Nerd-English.mp3|titles=07 Nerd English]