Dead Letter Perfect
Wandering Soul Records
Contemporary MCs try to create something dynamic out of inert media—once, rocking the crowd was sufficient, but nowadays we expect them to entertain us with mere words captured on a plastic disc. It's a vexing existential dilemma. Enter Soulstice, the D.C.-via-Chicago spitter who sees his whole life as text, whose very existence is a piece of art. Blurring the line between personae and the personal while showcasing ill flows over soulful production, Dead Letter Perfect seeks to transcend the limits of its format by both acknowledging its deficiencies and ignoring them completely. What's hip hop for, if not impossible ambition?
Lyrically, Soulstice is on point, with a vocal swagger and flavor for days, recalling the message-driven density of solo INS. The challenge with MCs of his caliber is to avoid Can-I-Bus syndrome (sacrificing the overall product for displays of lyrical showmanship, lack of songcraft, etc.). Fortunately, Soulstice gives "Dead Letter" plenty of structure, and picks complementary beats. The music stands shoulder-to-shoulder with classic Tribe, Dilla, and even Kanye—or if not quite classic, at least it massages those legends' shoulders in loving homage, with plenty of Stax-era horns and strings thrown in for good measure.
The subject matters are sincere but never get too righteous. The biggest weakness may be the heavy reliance on traditional song structures (verse, chorus, repeat X 2), which would no doubt translate better live. But whether the music as a recorded medium is theoretically dead, Dead Letter Perfect is still a damn enjoyable listen. Dude knows that all the philosophy in the world won't save you if you can't move the crowd. —Jordan Selbo