Sunday, July 1, 2012

Album Review: School for the Blindman by Bronze Nazareth

Specs like Ray Charles seeing from his grave
He said "Bronze, you could hear the color of clouds
and see the sounds of existence like braille printed out"
- Bronze Nazareth

Maybe we could have predicted it, maybe we could've seen him coming. Just as the flourishing basketball culture of the early to mid-90s---with various flavors of expertise on display from Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Larry Bird, etc---merged with the DNA of a growing young super athlete to eventually become the all-around hoops behemoth that is LeBron James, the apotheosis of hip hop in the 90s was experienced by a growing Motown youth of musical precocity to eventually bring forth Bronze Nazareth, Wu-Tang's #1 draft pick.

The Wu-Tang Clan had crashed upon the scene like enlightened-yet-violent aliens from another galaxy, flying through on a phoenix-shaped spaceship and bearing lyrical swords which they swung with the disciplined techniques of Shaolin monks. As the new millennium began, Bronze, whose name is derived from the "18 Bronzemen" obstacle course through which Shaolin adepts had to pass in order to graduate from the temple, and fellow emcee/producer Cilvaringz were chosen by Rza to carry on the Wu legacy into the future, though the Moroccan Cilvaringz has proved to be a one-dimensional Carmelo to Bronze's LeBron (following this logic, failed emcee/producer Remedy would be Darko Milicic). Cilva can flip beats with the best of them but his rhymes often fall flat. While Bronze quickly gained a reputation for his beat-making skills, he's in fact a lyricist first and producer second, as his classic debut The Great Migration made clear to a stunned populace that had sought his album out just for the fresh beats.

The new bearer of the Wu torch is a devout fan's dream: the range of production skills brought forth by Rza's students (4th Disciple, True Master, etc) is spliced with the heartbeat of Motown soul and combined with comicbook-colorful raps that litter tracks with poetic and bloody bars. All from the same source. Of course, with all this ability comes the pressure to succeed and as Bronze let many years elapse after The Migration, the anticipation for his follow-up album grew unstable and perhaps unrealistic.

Falling in line with one of the negative traits of the Wu legacy, the sophomore Bronze Nazareth LP suffered numerous setbacks and delays. At times, it seemed a mirage for the thirsty fans treading the desert expanse of a dried up Wu dynasty. He first announced the album in 2007, promising School for the Blindman would appear by early 2008 if not late 2007. When '08 came, the album was slated to appear in the summer as part of the "Three Kings" series along with Almighty's Original S.I.N. and the second Wisemen album, Children of a Lesser God. The Almighty album was released featuring much work from Bronze, including two of the best tracks this writer had heard in ages. "Daylight" and "Dead Flowers" (not to mention the majestic beat on "Handle the Heights") showed significant improvement from Bronze, further raising expectations for his next album.

Thought for Food Vol. 2
, Bronze's second mixtape appeared soon afterward featuring a short-but-intriguing sampler of five tracks from Blindman. A subsequent record label conflict quickly put both Blindman and the forthcoming Wisemen album Children of a Lesser God on the shelf. Two years would elapse before we heard anything about them again. (Children eventually saw the light first in the autumn of 2010 while Bronze's sophomore solo was pushed further back.)

At long last, the final day of September 2011 brought School for the Blindman to the host of hungry fans eager to see what Bronze would do for a sequel to Migration. He's said that the extended wait allowed him to add on more features and the heavy Wu presence is perhaps the first thing that strikes one about the album. Rza appears four times, while Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, LA the Darkman and Killah Priest chuck spears as well. If anything, Bronze should be lauded for somehow managing to match the absurd expectations we had for this record. The end result is a deep, heavy collection of updated fresh beats with varying degrees of lyrical heat spread out across a range of 23 tracks.

Leaving aside a few interludes, there's not a single throwaway track on here. Every track seems to have much thought and effort put into it. In an impressive display of his versatility, there's a vastly varying range of songs from the violent and brutally gory to love stories, letters to dead friends, farcical pursuit of a burglar, and the view from inside a corrupt criminal justice system ("Only in for four now stretch me to the lifer ward").

Whereas The Great Migration often had the feel of a frustrated, starving artist ready to stab someone in order make his way inside and be heard (most evident on "Hear What I Say!"), he's already made it in now. He's got the stage and we're all ears. The poetic bars delivered remain terse yet heavy, descriptive, visual, precise ("Poem burial site seeing, my focus precise"). As he's now inside the building instead of clamoring to get at the door, he doesn't waste lines by criticizing the rap game, instead he's destroying all rival emcees who hoped he'd "stay underground like a departed miner" where he "skated Satan's fire." Fully prepared for mic duels, he'll "Shoot the fair one with two guns drawn."

Without further ado, here's a rundown of every song.

1. Intro
prod by Bronze Nazareth

A preacher's pulpit sermon opens the album, choir voices wailing wildly in the background. The emphatically delivered message is on the importance of education, "the way out of ignorance," raucous applause meeting his conclusion.

Here is a clear and concise statement of the album's main theme: Bronze sees his role as teacher, not of textbook knowledge, but life lessons: "we must impress upon our young people that there will be difficulties that they face---they must defeat them."

A quickly paced and thick bass drum beat bounces alongside the preacher's words.  Its tapping hi-hats and sputtering drums sound just like a moving train, Bronze's "train-of-thought over half-moon tracks."

This is the opening entry into a musical theater. Note the preacher's description of education which leads one out of darkness and "into the glorious light," just as the audio "School" is to help the "Blindman" see the light. This dark/light theme will dominate the lyrics in the next song.

2. Jesus Feet
prod by Bronze

Wonderful beat that envelops the listener in an environment of strings, cooing voices. Manipulation of soul sample voices (the technique of using voices as instruments) has been a Bronze production staple from the beginning but gone now are the sped up chipmunk voice chops. Instead, there are a few songs on this album that employ a crooning chorus of voices in the background creating a reverberating backdrop to the musical environment (Jesus Feet, King of Queens, and Stem Cells use this to great effect---as does The Illness Pt 2 on the last Wisemen album).

Lyrically "Feet" walks us through a gallery of verbal imagery with repeated dark-and-light symbols ("black hole"/"yellow Tony Accardo"; "black mask"/"street lamp"; "oil spill days"/"sun rays"; "golden steps"/"Gambino connects"; "light beams"/"ominous blight", this dichotomy is strewn throughout the song). Plenty of lyrical gems here, my favorite of these is probably
"I write SHOWS from below my left chest bone
so I don't do COMMERCIAL, nigga witness the EPISODE!"
Very short song, only about 1 and a half minutes of rapping but it's a nice introduction, the beat is fantastic (though the snares seem surprisingly soft). The woman yelling at the beginning and end can be extremely irritating.


3. The Road ft Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck
prod by Bronze

The gritty blaring trumpets and pattering drums sound like they're from a marching band of skeletons trekking ominously around an abyssal hell beneath a narrow road. Beat-wise this is definitely among the best tracks on the album, a fresh and heavily instrumental *Certified Wu Banger*. Such a great texture to the sound of this one.

Bronze has a number of dope lines, including this extremely creative metaphorical image to describe the ascension of a buddha blazer: "While I'm lofting pterodactyl off white widow endorsement." His mosaic of wordplay is carefully composed, notice the combination of rhyming words he works with from beginning ("Salicic, catch a casket driftin") to end ("Yellow apparition, smell of kush and incense"). 

Masta Killa's is my favorite guest verse on the whole album, mostly for his flow. This beat suits him to perfection.

carefully constructed measurements when you weigh it up,
refine it to its higher science"

I often said this around the time 8 Diagrams dropped but I strongly feel Masta Killa is one of the sharpest in the Clan right now, right up there with Ghost and Rae (while almost the entire remainder seems to have slipped). MK has, I think, actually improved over these years; No Said Date was a glaring example of his newfound dominance, Made in Brooklyn may have had some pretty bad songs but he was still top-notch lyrically, he was one of the most exciting performers on 8 Diagrams ("Wolves" is the most obvious example), his closing verse on Cuban Linx Pt. 2 was one of the best guest verses on that whole record, and the new material from his next project has been remarkably dope. I would love to hear lots more new Masta Killa over Bronze beats.

Although Deck sounds better than he has in a long time, I'm not into his verse that much. Don't quite know what it is about Deck but he had a pretty swift fall from great to uninteresting. The flow is certainly still there but his content became repetitive and boring not too long ago and he continues that trend here for the most part. I do like the road imagery depicted toward the end of his verse, though ("Chose the high road, never look down, like if my eyes closed"). Could also be that we expect so much out of Deck and it just ain't the mid-90s anymore... Either way, his verse is not nearly weak enough to harm the excellence of this song.


4. Fire Implanters ft LA the Darkman
prod by Bronze

Captivating beat with a smooth flavor to it; the violins are weaved to create an enveloping landscape in a similar fashion to "Jesus Feet." Here the drum loop is more fast-paced, though, and carries the beat along nicely.

Bronze's line, "well sought-out, engulfed in linen" seems to sum up the feel of this one. A rare sunny shoreline atmosphere for an artist whose work frequently involves the simmering Black Day in July Detroit streets.

The Bronze bars here are heavy with metaphors it, took a while before I could decipher much of what is being said. As he puts it: "Deep grams of stanza, one line of mine equal to one ounce." Another memorable line that I think is a nice, concise description of the lyrical approach:
"Panhandle candle wax flame brilliant thoughts out"

Fellow Grand Rapids/"Gun Rule" native (and graduate of the same high school) LA the Darkman fits well over this beat. He's smooth as fuck with the rhymes, mixing humor ("by the bay dock the boat/ Foot massage, Dr. Scholl's"), opulence, exotic women, and even hidden acronyms ("Laboring Under Correct Knowledge, they call it Love"). Even while his game has occasionally lurched toward mainstream, LA never spits anything but dope bars.

When the first couple Bronze albums dropped (Migration and Wisemen Approaching), there was some criticism that every song was always dark and gloomy. Here finally is a brighter track and even the rare instance of someone flossing (Darkman basically counting his dough in a verse) on a Bronze song.


5. Interlude
prod by Bronze

Crunchy boom-bap lo-fi loop. Pounding bass drum and the dangling snares sound like a punching bag chain, similar to the snares on "Hear What I Say." This beat sounds like it could've fit in that old batch of instrumentals that floated around for years ("O Lordy",  "Stairway to Violence" and all those).

6. The Bronzeman 2 ft Canibus
prod by Bronze

The first Bronzeman track was among the best on The Great Migration and has always been one of Bronze's best songs. This one manages to stand up to it pretty well. Getting Canibus on this version was a great idea---while Killa Sin destroyed Part 1, 'Bis is among the top lyrical bombers in hip hop and has been for something like 15 years now. As he puts it:

"Nobody can out-rap the Canibus man
and the whole planet knows it
catalogue spans from the land to the ocean"

Love the intro to this one, with the dude screaming "they can't tune me out!!!" Only left to wonder what it might have been like if Raekwon had decided to step into the ring on this one. As it is, he stamps the seal of Wu officialness on this, one of the bloodiest tracks on the album.

The beat has a great tempo to it; slashing snares and a bass that's running all over the place in the background while the violins are virtually screaming. Bronze spazzes out here for one of the best verses on the whole album, and probably his best display of flow (next to Farewell and Worship). Rapid fire shit unlike anything we've ever heard from him.

"Artists pray I'll stay underground like a departed miner
skated Satan's fire, my marrow is ganja, there goes the dope supplier
sound of the opiate audio fire"


7. King of Queens
prod by Ernesto Green

Somehow, the transition is made smooth from the screaming violins of the previous song to the sudden loud horn that opens this one.

At this point it's clear that Bronze truly has a knack for making great love songs---not corny, sappy or too emotional, just plain ol' dope, BANGIN, often grimy hip hop with a passionate and soulful message. There's been at least one great love song on just about every album he's been involved in (even going back to the Unknown album with the track "Everything is So Deep"). Observe:

Wu Meets Indie Culture - "Listen"
The Great Migration - "One Plan"
Wisemen Approaching - "Blinded"
Lord Jamar's 5% Album - "Same Ole Girl"
Original S.I.N. - "Dead Flowers"
Remarkable Timing - "Dead Flowers Pt 2"
Children of a Lesser God - "Lucy"

And now "King of Queens," a two-verse reminiscence of past relationships that's similar in style to "Blinded" from the first Wisemen album. This is the only real "outside" production on the record (Kevlaar's handled two tracks but he's definitely considered an in-house producer) and the beat is butterlicious. A beautiful, heart-grabbing sample chopped perfectly so that Sharon Jones' pipes pulsate "loooove" through each bar (one writer declared this the best sample of 2011). The drums don't bang that hard but they don't have to, there's so many other elements contributing to this instrumental that it sounds like a live band in the background.

Lyrically, this is pure poetry---love songs bring out the best in Bronze (as evidenced by the above list). In verse one, after separating with a Queen because of his foray into professional music ("hoes, tours and cocaine, can you remain the same?" she asked), he's reminded of her "through a windraft, an old fragrance." The two verses are written symmetrically, both concerning a past love that somehow got away and reflecting positively on the time they shared. Symbolizing the time when things came to an end, there's a sunset motif in both verses: "The sun was setting on my brain, the pressure of my cranium" and "Moon rising on the moment when we hugged I knew it." The ending of this song achieves epic heights with the whole chorus of voices moaning in the background while Bronze delivers these closing lines:

"I was hypnotized by ya round hips and thick thighs
Found that distance is a conqueror of time and read the signs
Memories unfold in the corners of my mind,
though I lost you young queen, our moments frozen in time"



8. Interlude
prod by Bronze

After all the water metaphors from the last song ("splash" is used three different times and he mentions a past love song of his called "Waters of Nazareth"), the concluding scene is one of a woman about to take a bath. Next is this relatively simple beat (surprising for Bronze). Perhaps its repetitive tones, with an ending crescendo, are meant to symbolize sex.

This extended break in the action serves as a necessary transition into the eventual explosive violence that is 4th Down.

9. 4th Down ft The Wisemen
prod by Bronze

Can't possibly say enough good things about this beat. Bronze has made many great beats over the years, and there's plenty of great beats on this album (production-wise, I think this far surpasses TGM), but this is definitely among his grimeyest bangers. It actually reminds me of "Mighty Healthy" with bombastic bouncing drums, crackling snares, and the soft, haunting chimes of the sample. Monumental instrumental.

When the original sampler for this album dropped back in 2008, the little bit of this song we heard was among the most intriguing snippets because the beat just sounded so incredible. Out of all the songs heard on that sampler, this is the only one that actually made the album.

The opening movie scene is from Death Wish 4, one of Charles Bronson's vigilante flicks. A drug dealer who hangs around an arcade supplies a teenage girl (the daughter of Bronson's girlfriend) with some bad product that immediately kills her. Shortly thereafter, the vigilante Bronson goes on a rampage trying to kill anybody who was involved in the girl's death. That all sets the scene for this intense, violent track in which Bronze flames "atomic abusive napalm" on an enemy's grave.

All of the Wisemen do this monstrous beat justice, though Kevlaar 7's verse is the best of all. Following the sports references scattered through the song, he's been a "Superhero since fetal, all-time great," shouting out Detroit Tigers legend Al Kaline in the next line. The brief bar "Warp time to drum lines" is probably the best one spit in the entire song. Even though Phillie's lyrical content seems to deviate from the overriding theme of the song, he's also got a great verse with the creative flow we've become accustomed to.


10. Fresh from the Morgue ft The Rza

"If hip hop's deceased then show me the body bag," Bronze declared on the last Wisemen album. Here the anointed torch-bearer of an enlivened Wu sound is joined by the Abbott himself to wreak hip hop havoc over a ridiculous beat.

When this dropped as the first single for the album, we knew it was official that Bronze was taking the beats to another level on this sequel to his impressive debut, The Great Migration. A ridiculous mix of rippling strings and rapid piano keys ascends this beat to steep audible highs. The two do their best to match it by unfurling tongue-twistingly delivered imagery in a nice flow.

Great theme to this joint with undoubtedly two of my favorite *emcees*.

Rza has not sounded this dope in a long time as he enters Bobby Steels mode and reels off his rapid-fire bars coherently. I get the feeling he's referring to Bronze when he says "So I'll give you a freebie, you besta smile when you see me" and "B-O-B-B, Y? Because we like you." Bronze may or may not be throwing barbs Rza's way when he boasts in the second verse:

"You a Phil Niekro, you an old pitcher!
on ya grind, past ya prime, I'm a spring chicken"

Either way it's a great song in which the torch seems to be passed Bronze's way as Rza repeats "Bronze is ill, ill, ill, Bronze is ill" through the chorus, no doubt blown the hell away by this creative and glorious beat.


11. Malcolm School skit

This originally appeared on Thought for Food Vol. 1, was a little surprised to see it appear here. Malcolm's point still sticks, though.

12. Stem Cells (Pictures)
prod by Bronze

These next two songs are my favorite tracks on the album, probably the top 2 beats for me as well.

Here Bronze concocts a complex instrumental mixture of elements and sounds all contributing to a chemistry of vapors; dank smoke clouds and ghosts waft in the air, phantom images appear and fade as in a dream. "Damn what's in the city air?" he wonders as a story is told in which Bronze, practically hallucinating, witnesses his dead grandfather's soul "roll out the smoke clouds, I'm calm but amazed." He confesses to his "grandaddy" a deep outpouring of guilt, feeling responsible for the tragic car accident that left his friend and fellow Wisemen Illah Dayz paralyzed from the waist down (Dayz had just left the studio where they finished recording deep into the early morning hours, Bronze cries out "Shouldn't have let 'em leave!"). He maintains optimism that stem cell research will eventually allow Dayz to walk again and perform with the rest of the (at that time) 7 Wisemen, "with stem cells we'll rock live with 14 feet!" Until that scientific miracles happens, though, he feels he's carrying the burden of "walking for two" while Illah Dayz remains confined to a wheel chair.

These are the kind of songs that made Great Migration so special; straight-from-the-heart soul-pouring heavily lyrical tracks over emotive beats. It's a form of hip hop soul music. The second verse parallels the first with a story told in the exact same structure from beginning to end (Bronze is a master at this). This time the cloudy opium den haze is formed from moist Florida air mixing with weed, "outlandish off the green lanterns." He goes to Florida to mourn a cousin who was murdered there.

I sense a mixture of meanings in the title "Stem Cells (Pictures)" as his eyeing the pictures of lost loved ones brings to life hallucinations and scenes that aren't quite there. The photographs are a stem from which these scenes grow, the (deceased) figures come to life out of the photographs as when he says "a cold stare from a photograph, looked back as if he could hear." He imagines talking to his cousin until the image fades and reveals itself an apparition, leading to one of the most powerful parts of the song:

"Romancing plans of blowing trees in deep mansions
my cousin glare back like he ain't understand
Died a young king, Aunt Deb wit her face in her hands!
Saw the moon set and dark clouds cried on withered plants"

A very well-crafted and heartfelt track. The production is Bronze at his very best---the drums have a nice pace and solid snare to 'em, while the ghostly crooning voices and wailing horns interweave and tug at one's emotions.

The beat tells the story before the words even begin to.


13. Records We Used to Play
prod by Bronze

What an explosive beat. The mighty resonance of these drums is notably absent from a lot of the beats on the record. Its powerful acoustic energy and soul-piercing violins lift this instrumental up to musical heights only matched by perhaps one or two other beats on the album. Excluding the bonus tracks, this beat is up there with Reggie and Stem Cells as the three best on the CD.

Just like the other Bronze solos on Blindman, this song has a dense lyrical fabric with the two verses' lines resonating with each other in thematic symmetry. While this is one of the more complex lyrical joints on the album, there are a few unmistakably classic bars, particularly:


which I find one of the more striking things said on the entire album. It's an extremely poetic way to say that he crafts music straight from his very core, his heart & soul, but in the context (before "Thrill is Gone chapters" and "blunt leaves conspire to thieve my chromosomes") he's also describing his art as a lasting mural or painting that will endure and carry his message long after his D.N.A. deteriorates.

One of the main messages the song delivers is the sheer autonomy of his poetry and eccentric rhyme style. "I'd rather write for myself and have no listeners, than to write for the listeners and have no self" he declares at one point and in the first verse he says "To be fair, I'm on a finer district, so DILATE." Dilate, expand your mind, open your eyes and "grasp life." (It's worth mentioning at this point that I'm in the midst of crafting a book-length lyrical exegesis with the Bronzeman that will decypher his "treasure speak" and the intricate patterns embedded therein.)


14. The Letter
prod by Bronze

This little batch of three solo tracks is probably the most interesting part of the album in that it best represents what Bronze's music is all about. These are all hip hop joints heavily infused with SOUL. It's a hip hop/soul/blues hybrid that manifests the essence of Motown Detroit. (The next track, "Gomorrah", is also basically a soul joint.)

Here, Bronze even flexes the pipes and sings a surprisingly beautiful chorus in an ode to a close friend he lost to a drug overdose. (Prescription pain pills, specifically, as he says "Physicians 'scribe the new heroin/Soma comas overthrowin new age pharaoh kings" and later "Powders of prison meant to stop the pain instead they tear a house apart/Ending the reign of a king".) Like "Stem Cells", this is a very personal song in which he's composing a lyrical letter to his friend, a Gulf War vet who came home and was swallowed by the Detroit streets as Bronze so poetically describes:

"Desert Storm couldn't get you but Detroit did you in
from the sand to the concrete, a soldier wore thin"

I'm not crazy about the beat, but it does have a nice vibe and this song is so thoroughly loaded with emotion and lyrical prowess that it's hard not to enjoy it. As on the last two songs, The Letter's two verses are written symmetrically with an amplified pain and guilt felt in the second one as he sounds like he's in tears while delivering these lines (parallel to the ones quoted above):

"The Persian Gulf couldn't drown you like these cement seas
the will of steel bent, and crushed by a pill, who could believe?"


15. Gomorrah ft Killah Priest
prod by Kevlaar 7

Following a track that frequently laments the life-diminshing ruins in the city of Detroit, we are now given an audio tour of the innards of that decrepit city, "in the deepest of the hole where the leeches won't crawl." The chorus, with yells of "Detroit!" "Brookyln!" "Gun Rule!" sounds like the announcements of a train operator and Priest even begins his verse with "Brooklyn, the A train/ the J train run through my body."

The lyrical content of this track is wonderful, pure verbal art, but overall it's one of my least favorite tracks on the album. The beat has some good elements to it (a nice sample that participates in the theme of the song plus strong bass) but it runs a few ticks too slow. In a three-verse track, the slower flows tend to get a little drawn out and occasionally boring. I'm as big a Killah Priest fan as anybody but I was shocked how uneventful his verse is here.

Certainly not a terrible track, but one with noticeable flaws unlike almost everything else on the record. "The Letter" and "Gomorrah" are also the two longest tracks on the CD (10 and a half minutes together) so I tend to want to move on when listening to this one.


16. Instrumental Interlude

Fast-paced boom bap beat behind a heart-rattling MLK speech to introduce the next track.

17. Reggie ft Rain the Quiet Storm
prod by Bronze

I'm always amazed when listening to the album when I find that, this far into it, we're still getting all-around bangers like this one (and there are still a couple more after it).

This beat is a monster. Bronze drops three verses telling a story about chasing after a crackhead burglar named Reggie with a short verse included from the awesomely-named female emcee Rain the Quiet Storm who plays Reggie's associate, "crackhead Diana".

There's so much going on in this song with the beat's blaring horns and heavily thumping bass accompanied often by sound effects that illustrate Bronze's lyrics. The overall picture is burlesque in its wildness and humor, while the sound remains hip hop at its grimiest.

After the short feature from Quiet Storm (aka Crackhead Diana), the beat suddenly flips into more spooky, solemn tones as Bronze & Co. have captured the offending burglar and now hold him captive. The lyrics overlow with poetic imagery, as here when Bronze describes the capture:

"Caught him on Stratmore, lungs hot as a manifold
Detroit lions chased him through iron jungle like antelope
pulled out on cowboy, he ran, they heard his ankle broke"

After they've "nudged him in the Black Day building" to the accompanying sound of "iron clangs," Reggie's pleading leads Bronze to momentarily walk in the offender's shoes. He realizes "I'd probably do the same if I were he" before being struck by Reggie's calling forth a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. Bronze offers forgiveness, the song abruptly ending with the emotive voice of MLK himself.

All in all, it's a complex and exciting story track that's executed to perfection.


18. Farewell ft Willie the Kid
prod by Bronze

Wonderful flow from Bronze on this excellent little joint. It does sound older than many of the other tracks on the album (and indeed Bronze threw a few darts from this verse in a freestyle in 2008 or so) but it clearly belongs here.

The beat is a very creative combo: hi-hats with a raspy-sounding plash and exaggerated drum crashes melded into a surprisingly effective blend with the gentle caress of a lilting Marvin Gaye sample and its cinematic violins (the violin is definitely an oft-used and very effective beat element on this album).

Bronze outlines his prison-themed bars rapidly and his old high school classmate Willie the Kid sounds great over this beat, too. A nice fast-paced yet smooth banger.


19. Cold Summer ft the Wisemen
prod by Kevlaar 7

This track smacked the listening conscious back in 2010 before the last Wisemen album, Children of a Lesser God, was released. It was thought to be a song for that album but when Children dropped it featured all brand new material. Cold Summer seemed to just float out into oblivion as a random single until it appeared here at the end of Bronze's long-awaited second solo.

It's a nice song to play loudly on good speakers as its got a heavy bass drum with a nice melody to it. It features a Salute chorus and one verse apiece from Salute, Bronze, and June Megaladon but nothing about the track really stands out. Salute sets it off with intensity. Bronze has a few good bars but overall his weakest verse on the album. June sounded great on the originally leaked version but here seemed to re-do his verse while partially out of breath.

While there is much to like about this song, overall it doesn't stack up with the rest of this album. It's better than a lot of hip hop out there but I do wish it wasn't here. Another brand new Bronze solo track would've fit much better.


20. Worship ft the Wisemen
prod by Bronze

What a finish. Four albums into his oeuvre it's clear now that closing with a great track is a strategy for Bronze. Great Migration finished with the title song, same with Wisemen Approaching, Children of a Lesser God had "Corn Liquor Thoughts" and Blindman finishes with this exquisite banger.

The repeated melody of "We bow our heads..." is one of the best sample pieces I've come across in a long time. Through repeated listens, one realizes that Bronze and Kevlaar even adjust their flows to match the drawn-out lilting flourish of the sample. The thick and slow-moving bass line also has a noticeable drag to it. It's the slashing violin loop that makes this beat, though, and the emcees react to it with some of the best lyrics and flows of the whole album.

Salute has three verses on the record and this is undoubtedly his best (maybe the best I've heard from him ever, in fact). The group prefers to have him bat leadoff and, as he hungrily raps out bars like these, you can see why:
"Sun shine through rainy days
Thunderstorm, when lightning strikes I turn the page
Release rage, twelve-gage buck shots
I bleed for it, I breathe for it, I am the block"

Kevlaar's verse has a spectacular finish to it ("Forecast exquisite/ Paint rain with life liquids/ New climate: typhoons of mental riches") and Phillie characteristically spazzes out over this amazing beat but the highlight here is undoubtedly Bronze. Observe how much is said in just his first seven words:

"The city blaze, I tightrope the everglades"

His flow is ferocious as he's spinning out extraordinary rhythmic verbal imagery.

"The body chalk, the vacant lots where Satan flocks
get ya smocks I'm illustrating like Ernie Barnes!!"

All in all, it's a magnificent way to close out the album. Well, the CD version at least.


iTunes Bonus tracks:

21. Carpet Burns ft Rza

Would have been one of the best beats on the CD if it was officially on it. Even as a bonus it's one of my favorite songs.

This is Bronze production at its best, a chemistry of blasting drums, emotive voice chops, and beautiful melody orchestrated to a perfection few producers are capable of achieving. I could listen to this beat everyday and not get tired of it.


22. The Fellowship ft Rza

Another incredible beat, also one of my favorite verses from Bronze.

"Squeeze the page, please!
my blood, sweat, and tears
drip off my inscription
no minor incisions unless you fail to listen"



23. Scot Free ft Rza

A slow beat with Rza ominously presenting a dark tale. It's actually a verse he threw out way back when in an old CREAM freestyle with Shyheim and Gza.

Beat is tight, flow is boring. Amounts to an unspectacular track.


Beats 4.5/5
Lyrics 5/5
Overall 9.5 out of 10

The greatest aspects of The Great Migration, and what so appealed to people about Bronze as a solo artist, was the deep heartfelt SOUL that was so effectively communicated through his music. Blindman thankfully carries that over, particularly with the trio of "Stem Cells", "Records We Used to Play," and "The Letter." Overall, the album amounts to a well-assembled balance of elements rough, soulful, and cerebral. The connecting spine of these elements is Hip Hop of the utmost quality: gourmet beats and food-for-thought rhymes all with perfect timing and rhythm.

What's most interesting for me, though, is that this fully-equipped and complete album still manages to leave something to be desired. Superb as this record is, I still don't think we've heard the very best of Bronze yet. Part of that is the high expectations I discussed in the intro but we're also left to wonder what happened to the songs from the original sampler (where we heard "Lincoln ain't free the slaves, it was a tactic of war!") and I personally would prefer to hear more Bronze solos next time, spotlighting his own lyrics more. There remains an imbalance in the ratio of respect he receives for producing vs. rhyming. All the more reason to stay tuned for the next chapter.

Favorite beats:

Records We used to Play
Stem Cells
Carpet Burns
The Road
4th Down
The Fellowship
Fresh from the Morgue

Favorite Bronze verses:

Stem Cells
Bronzeman 2
Worship (first verse)
The Fellowship
Records We Used to Play (verse 2)

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