Production in hip-hop can be a tough game. Emcees want to show off, and producers want to impress, as well. Definitely tricky work, but what happens when that delicate balance is lost?
Soundvision is this kind of album – where the production of each track, more often than not, overwhelms the emceeing. This sometimes happens to such a degree that one can find oneself wanting the vocalists to get out of the way. It leads to a feeling of being behind that one really tall guy at a concert: you’re missing half the show, and you’re starting to get a bit resentful about it.
There are a few exceptions to this that do stand out, however. Most notable of these is Melanie Rutherford’s work on ‘One Night,’ as well as Phat Kat and Big Tone on ‘Represent/Motown’ (by far the most impressive verses on the album). At his best, Magnif is occasionally reminiscent of Talib Kweli, though lines such as “[…] because the flow is Magnif / I hate to brag man, but I’m the s**t” quickly drag him under in the river of Kweli’s quick-witted flow.
Despite these criticisms, only once you accept that Soundvision is about solid and innovative production value (and not punchlines) does it become possible to lean back and enjoy it. In many ways, it sits more comfortably among instrumental albums rather than the rest of Babygrande’s catalogue, which tends to read like a VIP list of the game’s strongest underground lyricists. When you start to think about who collaborated (the biggest names are J Dilla and Madlib), it starts to all make sense.
Let’s also keep this in mind: Soundvision’s position in hip-hop’s timeline has changed over the past six months. J Dilla’s recent passing means that this is one of the last albums he will have blessed with his touch (which includes a voice message set to a funk- inspired backdrop called Words From Dilla). This project endeavoured to be a soundscape, the kind of album whose sounds could be strongly felt, and almost seen, throughout. Dilla does a great job adding to this with his piece, The Shining. Likewise, Madlib’s track High, deceptive because you expect it to be about weed in typical Madlib form; it works as a nice interlude to Magnif’s usual soul and R&B production style.
In summary: lounge to Soundvision, bop your head to Soundvision, definitely. But it feels like it was more fun to rap to Soundvision than to listen someone else do the same.
(Review originally published on MVRemix.com)