If the parameters of underground rap are expanding faster than ever, what with beatmakers like Clams Casino and AraabMuzik working to shatter any and all of the genre’s supposed aural boundaries, then California-based rapper Knowledge Medina and Florida-based producer Numonics are consciously keeping things pretty confined. On Never Enough, Medina and Numonics’ nine-song first collaborative EP, the two depend on a sort of textbook classicism, entirely devoid of gimmickry and flash, that reminds there will always be a place for fundamentals-driven indie rap.
A quick YouTube search will show that Medina cut his teeth as a battle-rapper, but that’d be hard to determine through this EP alone; the songs here tend to be built around life-examining verses, not bursts of facetious one-liners. This is a sort of double-edged sword, because while Medina always has his heart in the right place (“Promise,“ for instance, is about his struggle to raise his daughter the way he wants), his narrative-powered songs tend to be a little predictable or even just bland. Luckily, though, Medina’s sheer technique as an emcee is crisp enough, albeit a hair indistinct, to not be supplanted when a more lyrically enticing guest like Reks (on “DOA” and “Above and Beyond”) comes into the fold. And even if Medina’s half-sung, half-spat hooks usually float by without making an enormous presence, they’re by no means futile.
As the only producer here, Numonics supplies ceaselessly sturdy backdrops for Medina’s and the guests’ verses. “DOA” is undoubtedly the greatest treat here, what with its obviously sample-based beat vaguely conjuring a bombastic mid-’90s DJ Premier production. At other spots of the EP, Numonics culls woozily gorgeous loops and primitive guitar riffs, as well as clattering drums and pitched-up vocal samples, to propel songs, most impressively on “The Requirements” and “You Don’t Really Care.” And throughout, the sonic architecture of the EP is simply compelling, no other criteria needed; it’s easy to get the sense that Numonics could drop one hell of an instrumental project.
Though it’s prevented here because of the seven guest spots, a possible shortcoming of future collaborations between Medina and Numonics might be spawned from their lack of audible chemistry. For some intangible reason, the individual members of the best producer/rapper duos ever – Blackalicious, Gang Starr, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, among others – never sound truly at home without each other, while guests tend to deter the main men’s teamwork; conversely, Medina and Numonics don’t always sound especially in-touch with each other. Still, as the EP stands, it’s one of the slickest no-BS indie-rap projects of the young year. Just don’t expect it to shake up your worldview.