In his own words, Sole is not a poet. He’s not a favorite among women. And he’s not the easiest guy to like. Opener “Da Baddest Poet” enters with all the subtlety of a Mack truck. “Cops ain’t shit to me / Jobs ain’t nothing but free pens and long distance calls,” he announces in a tone deaf warble over a stubbornly lo-fi guitar riff. His delivery is sparse as he decries his own lack of linguistic prowess, but it’s also grating and difficult to tolerate. Maybe this is a warning to the unprepared: get ready.
Selling Live Water grows progressively better. Double-time raps on “Respect, Part 3” give it an urgency that continues into the hyperactive rant “Tokyo,” imagining “immigrants selling sex: buy a beautiful girl, buy a dumb American.” When Sole reveals his writing process, it becomes much easier to appreciate his seemingly random outbursts; this particular song was a result of one late-night Japanese-hotel-room confession recorded into a dictaphone. His almost-rhymes approach topics that MTV’s favorite half-dollar celebrity apparently has no time to consider. “Plutonium” is a criticism of both left- and right-wing propaganda, and “Sebago” recalls the brief wisdom of a mushroom trip: “…don’t just stand there like all epiphanies are purchased in the old port from someone who smokes kind nugs…”
Sole owns no clothing company, pimps no famous whores, and certainly has no future in feature films. He’s just a disaffected little white boy from the Midwest of nowhere in particular, rapping about self-doubt and the frustrations of youth in Middle America from his new home in “the hipster settlement of Oakland.” He isn’t too concerned with maintaining his West Coast street cred or his pectoral guns, but he certainly does demand attention.
Further along the opening track, he quips, “The white man is the fucking devil / (I) wanted to be black since age 14,” and it’s hard to tell exactly how serious he is. After the relatively lifeless beats of “Pawn in the Game,” the album enters overdrive with the rapid flow and drum rolls of “The Priziest Horse,” culminating in the title track’s prog-rock guitar riff and frantic lyrics that seem to consider the bizarre irrelevance of modern life: “I got a cross-shaped penis and I love myself when God isn’t looking” and “I’m trying to eat well, but there’s no healthy food at gas stations.” The album’s title is a metaphor for advertising people. Sole comments: “No matter how enlightened you think you are, someone bought your opinion along the line…”
For all reports of his falling out with El-P, this follow-up to debut Bottle of Humans sounds a bit like Fantastic Damage, dotted with fading synthesizers, slowly rolling beats, and forceful, sometimes overbearing thought bubbles. As a rhythmic instrument, Sole’s voice is often pitch-perfect, and his delivery is reminiscent of Aesop Rock’s cerebral musings, though perhaps without Rock’s complimentary degree in advanced urban English. Unfortunately, Sole’s stream-of-consciousness narratives are almost impossible to decipher without the help of the essential liner notes, which reveal his unprecedented level of self-deprecation: “If I am a poet, I have very limited subject matter and an eighth-grade vocabulary. If I’m a rapper, why am I such a pussy?…My humor and general attitude is pretty pretentious…” Wow, let’s hear some belittling realism like that from P.Doody and company.
Frankly, most listeners won’t be willing to devote the time required for deconstructing Sole’s chinkless lyrical body armor. Selling Live Water will never find a home between Nelly and the Black Eyed Bullshits on set lists for TRL or New York sports clubs. But Sole has the potential to be a massive force in hip-hop, underground or otherwise. He very well may defeat himself in the process, but he has a complex mind and a unique point of view that makes listening to what he has to say worthwhile.