Nearly any record that has Abilities’ good name associated with it promises a dumbfounding intricacy both in beats and scratching. His turntable work on El-P’s cold and detached solo debut, 2002’s Fantastic Damage, is example enough of his capAbility. The awards under his belt aren’t merely decoration, though; Abilities has earned the unsung praise that has come his way if not for his battle skills than for the mixtape cred and First Born, his 2001 Rhymesayers’ debut with emcee Eyedea. The other half of this prizefighter combo’s reputation isn’t easily matched, either.
Eyedea hails also from Minnesota and has repped himself and Abilities well on their multiple shared bills with Atmosphere, and eventually with many other well-known hip-hop acts. The emcee wears proudly the 2000 Blaze Battles World Champion jacket, earned when he beat out approximately 15 other emcees with a freestyle forum that lasts only a minute. The duo’s second Rhymesayers/Epitaph full-length, E&A, has a handful of really bright spots where Abilities and Eyedea match interesting beats with energetic vocal flow.
“Reintroduction” is cut-n-dry evidence of Abilities’ innovative touch on a hip-hop staple. As the content of the track is E&A‘s reminder about how effective their debut was, Eyedea comes off a little like Pete Nice here, occasionally so excitable that his vocal slips into a menacing growl. His sarcasm is blatant and he allows no one access to his deejay, which he seems to be hoarding to himself: “You sold a lot of records but I gotta question / How many ended up back in the ‘used’ section? / All of ’em. Yeah, Abilities’ beats bang but he ain’t makin’ nothin’ for you so stop callin’ him.”
Remarkably, Abilities takes the only recorded vocal track and cuts it to pieces, scratching so voraciously that barely a line makes it through without a little trickery. His impatience for Eyedea’s lines to finish doesn’t hinder the rhythm, though, as each verse still remains on time within the bulky, stripped-down beat. This is the closest thing to a remix without actually being one.
The second astonishing move follows directly afterward in “Now,” when Eydea pulls the double-time bit and spits rabidly in spots. The highlight is shared by Abilities when he stops the beat at around two minutes and forty seconds to let only the piano loop slip by while introducing a whirring feedback noise and a new beat.
It’s not his first attempt at this kind of chaos; he ripped through “Delorean” on Fantastic Damage in much the same way, bringing Aesop and El-P to a standstill while completely distorting what could easily be a pleasant droning buzz over another, entirely new beat. The deejay’s skills are always dominant on E&A, even behind a Labor Days-ish meditation on “Exhausted Love” with a William Hurt-sampled epiphany to boot.
Although Eyedea has a firm grip on how to diss his peers (“On top of that, all your friends know my words”), the LP grows a bit weary on a couple of tracks, where it suffers from the typical name-check bravado or even a little melodrama. These shortcomings, though brief, might have been more of a threat if Abilities’ fast work hadn’t pulled the album together.