Tag Archives: Essence

Album review-Drive by Shane Reis & Clarkwork

Album review-Drive by Shane Reis & Clarkwork

by Dan-O

Every time I map a limitation onto Shane Reis he bursts through it. In Maine, the hip hop scene is full of people who are what they are and will be what they are, going forward. You can pick up their new album and if you liked what they did before you’ll recognize all the pieces still there. Shane is the one changing most rapidly. 2013 Shane (from my perspective) was a glue guy; the kind of player who comes off the bench with a ton of energy and grabs every rebound with his whole soul. That effort and energy brings out the best in everyone on the court and the game gets better. On the feature heavy Reis & Shine he approaches every beat with confidence and passion.  2015 Shane was starting to snarl and expand his perspective. He said “Don’t associate me with these schmoes they ain’t me(Here).” He meant it.  On the collaboration project with Essence (now under her name: Sarah Violette) they sought out Rhode Island producer Clark Work and sent a message. The beats everyone is handing around aren’t good enough.

The Clark Work/ Shane Reis 2017 collaboration Drive marks a huge step forward in the relationship between these two forces. Clarkwork drives me crazy. He really enjoys experimenting with sounds and at times in his beats everything drops out for a second, pausing your vicious head nod, and then it resumes full force. He creates a rhythm out of jerky stops and starts and never lets you just lull into a trance. Weird pays off because a lot of Maine hip hop production bends backwards to pay tribute to the foundational sounds: Jazzy like Premo or Pete Rock, reminiscent of Black Moon boom bap but Drive is happening now.

1000 MPH is perfect Clarkwork as central sounds twist jerk, stop, repeat and create a melody for themselves. Shane flexes his mission statement of bullish determination to succeed. The same work ethic that pushed him this far can see the growth and is now pushing that much harder. On HadAboutEnuff Reis tightens and loosens his flow with captivating dexterity over a lean simple nasty beat from Clarkwork.

The title track is absolute magic. Clarkwork starts it with weird background chanting and waits twenty eight seconds to drop the beat with Shane attaching the hook to its introduction. Shane is affiliated with everyone important in the local hip hop scene but loosely. His flow fits anywhere at this point and the weirder Clarkwork gets the more locked in Shane is. He demolishes every second he speaks on Drive.  His confidence and will power compliment the delicate lyrical balancing Sarah Violette does extraordinarily well on SMH and No More. On No More especially their voices join for a chorus that will stick directly in your head.

As undeniably dope as the title track is my favorite song is IDKWhatLoveIs. I’ve heard it a thousand times already and keep pressing play. I keep hearing sonic elements happening behind the piano, as if every Clarkwork beat is Narnia or Wonderland and you can just keep traveling into it and finding more madness. Shane is not a singer but somehow he makes the crooning work like he makes everything he does work. His written perspective on the song is a balance of confessional and appreciative. He readily serves up examples of not really being good at relationships, wondering if he is worth the trouble for his partner, at the same time being hopeful he can figure it out and thankful for the life he has.

Maine as musical scene is full of frustration and negative energy. Even the most successful entities wonder about the consistency of the audience, what they support and why….but Shane seems to turn all hostility into fuel. In rooms full of hopeless artists Shane can see the next steps and works tirelessly to achieve artistic goals in his music no one predicted but him. Drive isn’t a local album at all. It can sit next to any national release. Eight examples of the different directions these two are capable of together. How fitting that the last song is called NeverEndingGreenLight.

You can hear Drive on Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify or any other streaming service or you can buy it like I did.

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#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

#BandcampGold-Blue Moon by Essence

by Dan-O

I was so excited for my wife to see Essence perform.  The show was set up so acts work on different stages and trade off in a round robin.  Each performer had several sets. After the first Essence set my wife gave me the description of Maine’s most important rapper that I always carry with me.  My wife has one of these best friends: marvelously sweet, smart and great. Much smarter than she knows, much more attractive than she knows but doubts herself and suffers from the anxiety in her head. She said when Essence performed it was like watching Brother Ali come out of that friend.

It’s still a great way to frame her new project Blue Moon.  She is dynamic ,in delivery, with the spirit of a spoken word slam poet; every word takes its place as vital to the core of the whole. The first spoken bars on Blue Moon are “co-dependent on the figurative attachment, the one getting high on the balcony of the equator with feet…dangling off the timeline between you and me.” Her state of being as an artist presumes you know what all that means or have the willingness to unpack it patiently.

Blue Moon doesn’t have stock concept songs you’d expect to hear on a rap album (even a Maine rap album). Four of the seven songs are under three minutes but it’s still a dense listen. As a writer this was always a criticism I faced. People would read my stuff and furrow eyebrows while muttering…”it’s a little dense”. After a while I started taking it for the compliment it is. I give it to Blue Moon in the same way. Unseen is haunting, not just because of the ghost related chorus. In two minutes and seventeen seconds she covers loneliness, heartbreak and the dimensions you discover in people you get close to along with the difficulty in relating and comprehending what you’ve seen in them.

My favorite song is Resistance because, on the sly, Essence is fantastic at hooks (Blue Moon is kind of a great situation for Maine rap chorus’s. Not only is Essence great at hooks but she features Renee Coolbrith and Kristina Kentigian who are incredible singers, but never put out enough solo content. The combination of her talent and theirs in 7 songs means Blue Moon is always catchy enough to offset its depth.).  Resistance merges the deep conversation about our generations approach to relationships with a chorus that sticks in my head.  She’s no longer a poet or a rapper on Resistance she becomes a chant that lives in your experience. It’s the kind of song that makes you forget the process of listening to a song and think about your own life.

ChrisPaul did the production for all the songs other than Needs and the beats are dusty and minimal. Honestly, all the production in the Maine rap scene (for my ears) feels dusty, broken and post-Anticon underground. This is why the song Anniversary Essence did with big muscular production team OHX (collab with KGFREEZE) and Give (another KGFREEZE) push her in a totally different direction where she can showcase the sharpness of her sword with humor and wordplay.  This isn’t a knock on Blue Moon, the paranoia you feel from ChrisPauls In And Out beat totally makes sense for the content being covered. If most Maine hip hop production is aggravatingly self-importantly underground with its tongue stuck out at likeable melodies… Blue Moon smartly uses that to match the warmth of remembering those you love and the utter chill of not having them with you anymore(she also goes out of state for beats a lot).

That night, at that show, I awkwardly introduced myself and told Essence that a year and a half from now she would be light-years from where she is now. If you listen to Blue Moon and compare it to her 2014 project The Root of It…I’m looking ok on that.

Check out Blue Moon yourself:

https://essence1.bandcamp.com/album/blue-moon