The beauty of hip-hop instrumental records is they don’t have to be tied down to the requirements of an emcee. You don’t have to go 4/4. You can go with a two-minute drum solo if you feel like it, and if the only thing you can do is one sample over and over again, the seams are going to show. But with S.E.V.A., the music doesn’t so much take the forefront as it does fade into the wallpaper. Quality music doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, but the eponymous debut from S.E.V.A. could have used a few noteworthy moments among the generally solid output to place it above the mundane spiritual music released every day.
Mumbles, one half of the duo that comprises S.E.V.A., knows how to craft beats. His production on the now classic “A Book of Human Language” gave Aceyalone’s tongue-twisting raps an equally challenging musical home. But after years of “finding himself” abroad, Mumbles has turned to spirituality and teamed up with Gone Beyond of Santa Fe (no less) to form S.E.V.A.: Spirit Evolves Via Awareness. But “seva” is also a Sanskrit world meaning selfless service. The Islamic tendency to turn everything into an acronym has been around in hip-hop since the beginning, but spirituality has rarely been a focus of music that is still basically considered the devil’s work. It makes the record somewhat of an oddity, and the solid musical tapestry constructed does succeed in giving hip-hop some much needed variation.
That said, the album is exactly how you would imagine, minus the musical adventurousness you would expect from a producer as knowledgeable as Mumbles: some Indian tones, a few airy flourishes and a shaman sample, and voila. Incense not included. Sometimes the music betrays its philosophy, though, and it can become more exciting. “Suspended Animation” has a dubby psychedelic feel, and the slow rock back and forth gives it more of a drugged-out sound than was probably intended. Similarly, the playfulness on “The Eternal Self-Knowledge” and “Sun Shining/Eclipsed” created by vocals interplayed with seemingly chaotic strings and drums calls to mind the Books. But again, the songs go nowhere. I want to enjoy S.E.V.A., and each time I hear it I like it a little better. But after weeks of digging into its music, I’ve realized that there is precious little to discover.