Raashan Ahmad, Crown City Rockers‘ resident MC, is ready to unleash his first full-length solo effort upon the world. It’s called The Push, it hits stores May 20th, and it’s a breath of fresh air in a musical climate plagued by an epidemic of success by piggy-backing and repetition. Raashan’s role in the living-legend, funk/soul/hip-hop group has clearly helped prepare the B-Boy for a confident first step out on his own. We discussed The Push with Raashan back in March, and he was kind enough to show his appreciation by hooking us up with the album before it hits stores.
Here’s our first impressions:
Raashan’s evolution as an artist over the years is clearly evident on The Push, an impressive solo debut and well-rounded album that holds its own, both as a single musical piece and as individual tracks. The warmth of production are evident three seconds into album opener Hello, as a descending horn section and subtle pulsing beats provide the perfect backdrop for Raashan to make the his proper entrance. “Can we get a real hip-hop show, where people dance to the music, not just watch the flow? Where the bouncers don’t ego trip, DJs spin B-sides and brown people support the vibe?” he asks, issuing a much-needed call to action for hip-hop. The horns, the sample… it’s the perfect introduction to an album that puts a heavy focus on beats and airtight rhymes.
Former Jurassic 5 MC Chali 2na brings his subterranean baritone to City Feel Proud, riding an eerie sonic voodoo backdrop unlike anything we’ve head from Ahmad or the CCR camp. The verse volley play between the two MC’s is classic and would make a great live jam.
Many of the album tracks are reminiscent of Crown City Rockers in the familiarity of Raashan’s signature enviably rich, body-rockin’ flow. A perfect example is album standout If I, featuring some of Raashan’s best rhymes yet over a quick-snap drum beat and horn bursts, centering on a deep soul-searching vibe. Keep an ear out for Crown City master of the ivories Kat Ouano’s signature touch on the solo towards the end. Another highlight is Heavenbound, which I must have played six or seven times before moving on to the next track. It’s a pure indication of Ahmad’s storytelling prowess, recounting the sobering true tale of a girl killed by her boyfriend before moving on to the story of the young woman who threw her kids into the San Francisco Bay. The song is interlaced with original, irresistable hooks that demand a second (and third, and fourth) listen.
The Pressure Point sample in Weight is a great accompaniment to an invigorating jam that tells the story of a guy with his back on the wall who can’t catch a break, reflecting on jailed family, killed revolutions and liquor stores sucking the life out of the community.
In Fight, the lead-in Public Enemy sample hits like a quick gutshot, grabbing your attention as Ahmad tears through what could be called his first real protest song. Hell, he takes the fight directly to the Commander in Chief in the stripped, sick, beat-heavy chorus. It comes on like a party jam, but the verses paint a stark picture of America in the world today, and the need for change on a fundamental level. Here are the lyrics to the first verse of Fight:
Fight the power! Power fight people
People fight people for the crumbs that we’re left with
Crumbs look like buffets to poor folk
But knowledge is the wealth and that ain’t no joke
Crips fight bloods and bloods fight cholos
Cholos to whites and white fight black
Like, gimme them scraps and be gone with the wind
But the hood’s a bad land like a reservation
Press wanna fight for free speech in the court
Dad’s wanna fight when their kids play sports
thugs wanna scrap when you eyeball em’ wrong
MC’s wanna fight when you rhyming too long
Tribe fight tribe in the congo, WAR!
We buy the fight at the diamond store
Big country fight little country for they minerals
Fly drugs to the block make more criminals… FIGHT!
The Crush is another classic example of Raashan’s ability to build a flawless rhyme over a sizzling beat to deliver an irresistable jam. It’s a perfect summertime ode to hip-hop.
Close, on the other hand, couldn’t be sexier if it tried. Produced by the Crown City Rockers, the nearly flawless track was put together while the band was on tour. Kat lays down the chords while Raashan tells three different stories in one. Give Thanks follows, a solid rhyme over a smooth-groove beat, reflecting on appreciating life and unity despite the many differences we all have.
The labor screams you hear in the beginning of Yusef weren’t faked for the album; they’re the real sounds from the birth of Raashan’s son. The song is a celebration of the MC’s impending fatherhood and excitement to meet his son, who’s now two years old (Yusef makes a little freestyle appearance of his own at the end of the track that no parent could help smirking at).
Moving from bliss to tragedy, “It’s crazy hard to write this,” Ahmad concedes in the first line of Cancer, a chronicle of the journey he shared with his mother over the last year of her life. The loop of an agonized wail keeps the pain constant as the strain of the subject matter creeps into Raashan’s voice throughout the song. It’s the second shortest track on the album, but easily the most powerful. Fuck cancer.
Production credits go to DJ Vadim, Eligh (Living Legends), Headnodic (Mighty Underdogs / Crown City Rockers) and Stro (The Procussions), among others. CCR knob-turner Woodstock’s tactics are evident on the darker-toned Ready, a departure from the overall feel of the album due to Ras Messa’s growling delivery.
Lyrically, The Push is a premium delivery top to bottom. Rashaan’s ability to deliver a message without pretense or compromising the flow and overall feel of the song is perhaps his greatest strength. With The Push, he’s laid to rest any ideas that his abilities are reliant upon his Crown City bandmates. That’s not to knock the Rockers, however, who are a formidable crew with a beautiful style all their own, and remain among this reviewer’s favorite groups.
Those of you in the Bay area can hit up Amoeba Records in San Francisco on Tuesday for a special release day in-store, where people who buy a copy of The Push will get a limited-edition Raashan Ahmad Unreleased EP. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can catch Crown City’s show at the Key Club tomorrow night, as they tie up a West Coast run of shows. Whatever the case, make sure you pick up this album on Tuesday. You’ll be happy you did.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.