Asheru’s message begs for the return of hip-hop’s classic era, and he’s found hip-hop as a mouthpiece for his thoughts on politics, socioeconomic disparities, and the art of making music. Unfortunately, his message is all too familiar in the underground scene today. I agree with what he has to say about the dismal state of hip-hop, but Asheru lacks that trait necessary to launch the memorandum (i.e. J-Live’s metaphors, Esoteric’s unfounded vocabulary, Vinnie Paz’s devil worshiping). Asheru, a seventh-grade English teacher who graduated from University of Virginia and holds a master’s degree in education, is obviously talented. But on Insomnia Vol. 1, he sounds mediocre compared to other underground lyricists.
I popped in the twenty-six track Insomnia Vol. 1 (mixed by DJ Roddy Rod of Maspyke and a pre-release to the forthcoming While You Were Sleeping full-length) expecting “Moodswing,” Asheru’s 2002 collaboration with Talib Kweli that featured a chill piano beat with decent lyrics. But for the most part, Asheru’s rhymes are weak. He’s once again outshined by Kweli, this time on “If,” the token “struggle” song on While You Were Sleeping. To his credit, Asheru jumps on a couple like it on the full-length. “For Old Time’s Sake” opens with a catchy flute sample that teases the listener until the bass hits and the xylophone climbs and descends the musical scale. It’s a toe-tapper, and its benevolent message and professed respect to hip-hop make it tough to not like. And the organ-based beat on “Get Money” is one of the better beats I’ve heard in awhile.
But because of his morose voice and average wordplay, Asheru (part of the Unspoken Heard with Blue Black and co-founder of Seven Heads Entertainment, which features such notable artists as El da Sensei and J-Live) fails to stand out. Like on “Moodswing,” I suspect he will be reduced to just another “second verse” act. Unlike J-Live and Kweli, whose raps sound like the beat was blessed only for their use, Asheru’s flow and cadence works only on several of those dope Seven Heads beats.