The Scenic Route
Glow-in-the-Dark/Rawkus Records

When's the last time a rap album seemed completely free from the influence of its peers, devoid of aped references to lyrical superiority and shady money-making? When's the last time a product felt like airy escape, a vacation from the grit and bullshit of the city, as if it'd been created in some far-off, magical world? Coming through like an update of UMC's classic Fruits of Nature, The Scenic Route is like spending a warm, breezy Sunday afternoon on the porch with an eccentric uncle you think you met once before; that is, if said uncle was a soul-searching story teller who played more instruments than Sufjan Stevens. D.C. duo Panacea care about only one thing: making great music. And though ambitious to a fault—they seem destined to turn off casual rap fans—the LP succeeds too well.

Combining Raw Poetic's (ahem) raw poetics over K-Murdock's ridiculously lush and eclectic sonic beds, The Scenic Route is less a genre exercise in idiosyncrasy than a whole (and wholly dope) piece of artistic vision synergy. The music, like NES's "Bubble Bobble (a compliment, really), melds sincere weirdness and happiness, combining such disparate elements as boom bap, bop, and Innervisions-esque soul. This requires both craftsmanship and love for the source material, and Murdock doesn't lack for either. Never too crowded or, conversely, too boring, Route shifts tempo and tone at will, without ever losing that all-important flow. Speaking of flow—on the mic, Raw is clearly an MC's MC, refusing to water down his rapid-fire delivery or thoughtful self-reflection in favor of radio play. And trust me, Panacea will only get airtime in the intoxicating alternate universe they seem to spring from. But those who seek them out will leave this cold world behind, if just for an hour, when they jump on board for The Scenic Route.