Hip-hop, maybe more than any other type of music, can get away with coasting. Above-average beats and occasionally interesting rhymes can get praised far too strongly by people who simply find them listenable. But those people are right: Hip-hop records can be a real chore. Poor skits, ill-advised experimental tracks and guest appearances by people you’ve never heard of turn an average record into a skip-button-ready trip through mediocrity. Which helps explain why Common was praised too highly earlier this year for the leanness of Be. That record is much better than Evolution Fight, but like Be, Cyne’s second outing celebrates the simplicities of hip-hop.
At fifteen tracks (which, here, means fifteen songs with a few extra beats tacked on, a la Pete Rock) in forty-seven minutes, Evolution Fight is unadventurous hip-hop at its most solid. Though the record uses the basic building blocks of hip-hop, its sound is very much contemporary; the production often resembles 9th Wonder’s, only with electronic flourishes instead of the soul samples he often relies on. They are passable beats, but Akin and Cise Star are not distinctive enough as emcees to legitimize the music. Unlike Phonte and Big Pooh of Little Brother, they have little charisma on the mike, and it’s difficult to remember their voice five minutes after the album is done.
If the album succeeds at all, it’s because of its uncommon subject matter. “Arrow of God” deals with religion in a way that is rarely seen in hip-hop, and rarely does the vocal duo resort to the clichés of hip-hop – conventional or underground. It’s interesting to compare the direction of Evolution Fight with “Drops,” Cyne’s collaboration with Daedelus on his sadly neglected, truly unusual Exquisite Corpse, released in March. Both deal with somewhat ethereal subject matter, and the multi-layered sunny production lingers on.
But a song’s worth and an album’s worth is a big jump, and this Florida four-piece (which also includes producers Speck and Enoch) hasn’t progressed enough to make a true statement. There are hip-hop fans who search for music like this – honest, solid, simple – but most listeners will see little here that pushes things forward.