The Talented Timothy Taylor: Back 2 School (1st Period)
Shaman Work Recordings
The popular line these days is that rap fans have attention spans of about 15 minutes, and going by the gazillion fly-by-night MCs' graves dotting the landscape, it's an entirely valid observation. But the opposite view is also true—many artists, usually the ones who came up during the fourth wave of hip hop (1991-1996), have enjoyed not a modicum of staying power, due to their genuinely unique voices and to (gasp!) fan loyalty. Enter Wise Intelligent, formerly of Poor Righteous Teachers, a group that today seems downright impossible because of its blatant pro-Black Panthers message, but actually fits nicely in rap's under-mentioned Five Percenter tradition. Wise is a veteran, like Robert Horry—he may not have the name recognition of Nas or Ghostface, but he keeps adding rings to his fingers nonetheless.
The basic formula is simple. First, stick with the style that initially caught a buzz—but update it for the times. Here, Wise keeps his Das Efx-like rapid fire flow and riddim patois, along with heavy doses of empowerment. But though he used to rock African medallions, in 2007, he chooses to cloak his message in cautionary tales of drug deals gone wrong and government corruption (the soup-du-jour for gangstas and backpackers, respectively).
Next, know that thematic and sonic cohesion (here, poignant nostalgia for the soul-drenched pre-crack ghetto) make the difference between a collection of hot songs and a classic album. By surrounding himself with a handful of trusted producers (most notably Oh No, whose crispy fuzz is at once familiar and off-kilter), even when the music falters (rare, even with 18 songs), the larger structure is maintained. Lastly, it's the stance of humble assuredness that makes a veteran MC like Wise a champ every time out. Possessing twice the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (not to mention talent) of its deaf, dumb, and blind contemporaries, Back 2 School shows instead of tells—the most important lesson of all. The result is one of the hottest releases this summer. Attention new jacks: It's no longer smart to be dumb!