It took them three years to do it, but Sunsett Terr said their debut was “A Prelude” to things to come, and “Sunrize” delivers on that promise in a BIG way. Quite frankly I was intimidated by the time I was done ripping this album for review – TWO discs, 29 songs and nearly two hours of music in total. My fears were somewhat calmed reading Sirota’s review though with comments like these: “The album does not hide the group’s camaraderie; they revel in their enjoyment of hip-hop; they laugh out loud at each other’s bad puns.” If I’m going to sit through two hours of one group, it at least helps to know that their previous effort showed they tend to work well together.
“Archways” eases my concerns more, kicking off the album with a mellow understated instrumental by Tilden Dexter, working in pleasant jazz notes and sax riffs. The beats are paired with refreshing lines like “no need to blind you with ice with lyrics this nice.” The second verse is a little awkward, but it’s that “on beat, off beat” Masta Ace style of rapping, so even when it seems to be falling apart it’s really not. The group’s members (LK, Dexter and Jay Biggz) seem well grounded and humble, noting that “Even Tony Starks was an alcoholic Iron Man,” an allusion to the fact that any man or woman you view as a hero in or outside of hip-hop is flawed. (Even this line is flawed, since there’s actually no S at the end of Stark’s name. That’s an invention of Ghostface Killah.)
Through the massive “Sunrize” album the Washington D.C. group gives off a jazzy, Digable Planets like vibe – something they even reference in the song “Jazz Town” with the line “It’s the +Rebirth of Slick+ and we +Cool Like Dat+.” As noted in their previous review, Sunset Terr believe in presenting a positive vibe and message in their music, to the point that there’s no parental advisory sticker and no need for one. I can’t imagine any way throwing out curse words would enhance the slow bopping “King Tut” for example, complete with their “so cornball they’re charming” punchlines like “put me on a bag of cheese, call me Chester.” There’s a feel of Egyptology to the song on the whole not seen prominently in rap since the early 1990’s – something I wouldn’t mind making a comeback – and the Flavor Flav and James Brown samples only enhance the feeling.
Tilden Dexter handles the production for the entirety of disc one, turning things over to LK on disc two save for “Trash Cans” produced by Young Raven. My favorites on the first disc include “Food for Thought – whose opening reminds me of “Wall Market” from Final Fantasy 7 – the uptempo “Where You Gonna Run” (with the obvious Run-D.M.C. sample) mocking wannabe gangsters and thugs, the precise slicing bass of “Verbal Scalpel” and the aptly titled “Grand Denouement” to end this half of the presentation. Disc two includes the pounding beats of “Let’s Get It” (which almost seems to be sampling Ace’s “Born to Roll”), the comic book inspired “Just Us League,” the epic story of “Mary” and “Trash Cans” featuring Reggie Mack, one of the most chill tracks in the entire two hours of the presentation.
As much as I appreciate where Sunset Terr is coming from, particularly their classic and progressive hip-hop inspirations, and their constant desire to stay positive in the face of so many negative messages out there – I regret to say that two hours is just TOO MUCH. This is not a conclusion I came to easily since there are so many double disc albums that get this tag, and I didn’t want to trot it out one more time without giving Sunset Terr the chance to exceed expectations. They do exceed them, but disc two in particular is littered with forgettable songs like the banal “Flows On My Mind” and the regrettable AutoTune effects and electronic sounds of “Tooth Decay.” If this were only a one disc album, “Sunrize” would clock in as “slightly above average” for the opening fold of the tray and “slightly below average” for the CD beneath. I respect what Sunset Terr has to offer so I really hope that on their next album they’ll subdue their ambitions just a tad.
Throughout Sunset Terr’s debut, “A Prelude to Sunset Terr,” this DC Metro hip-hop foursome, comprised of producer/rapper LK and MCs Tilden, Dexter, Jay Biggz, and Aapex, brag about the fact that they don’t curse. I don’t think anything is wrong with cursing. I fucking curse all the time. For no reason. Cock. Nothing’s wrong with swearing. And usually, I wouldn’t take well to this sort of petty moralizing. Just last week, I panned Khalil’s debut for its self-righteous piety. The point is, I should hate this album.
But I don’t hate this album. I like this album. A lot. While I usually am not so into MCs that mostly rap about rapping and how they are much better and nicer and smarter rappers than everyone else, there are a few things about “Prelude” that get me past this b-boy posturing to the point that I actually find it charming.
The first thing that makes “PST” more than a typical album is the production. If you locked Danger Mouse, Prince Paul, El-P and the Postal Service in a room together, the result would sound something like this record. The production is traditional in its roots. The percussion tends to stick to the basics, and adeptly so, but the melody is packed to the brim which futuristic synth hooks, plus lots of bloops, bleeps and waves, that make the music at one intoxicating and distinct. The opening track, “P.I.F.F. Intro,” features boom-bap drums under a clubby hook, ominous clap, and dial-up-modem sound. The four rappers spit joyful self-touting knowledge, reminiscent of De La Soul. The combination of this innovative production and old school flow makes for an intriguing blend. Like Mos Def, De La, and Delphonic, Sunset Terr is able to innovate by rapping about traditional topics while jumping to the next century with their production. The success of this album comes largely from the fact that this group resisted the temptation to blandly pay homage to the old school, and instead crocheted old images into new fabric.
“Prelude” is also refreshing simply because the rappers obviously had so much fun making the album. To someone reading the lyrics, it may look like this D.C. crew as stagnant and preachy, but this is why music is meant to be heard first and read only for clarification. On “Where You At?” for example, the group jacks a call-and-response chorus from hip-hop days of yore while criticizing drugs and gangster rap, but are so full of humor and cheer that it almost sounds like they are at once mocking and paying tribute to their roots. Sunset Terr is having such a good time that they come across as good-natured, not self-righteous. The album does not hide the group’s camaraderie; they revel in their enjoyment of hip-hop; they laugh out loud at each other’s bad puns (“Change my name to LOL cuz all I hear is ‘Dang!'”); they constantly give each other shout-outs that come across as heartfelt, not opportunistic.
Plus, this quartet’s debut is not all conscious, old-school rap. It also features some genuine soul-searching, jokey tributes to fat girls, and awkward sexual bravado. While perhaps there is still a bit too much meta-rap for my tastes, these divergences help to provide the record with balance.
“A Prelude to Sunset Terr” really throws a wrench in the theory I espoused last week that positive, old hip-hop tends to be boring and condescending. Sunset Terr has created an album that, while perhaps somewhat lyrically plain, criticizes the f-word while maintaining its ingenuity.