Pete Rock

    Soul Survivor II


    Everything comes full circle. Or does it?


    In 1994, about a minute into the G-funk gangsta-rap era, Common
    dropped his classic “I Used to Love H.E.R (Hip-hop in its Essence and
    Real).” Metaphorically comparing hip-hop to an old love, Common told
    the story of a girl gone wild, made impure by the commercial appeal of
    Southern California’s low-ridin’ set-claimin’ gangstas. He yearned for
    the old-school, Afro-centric, black power days he shared with H.E.R,
    talking about how hip-hop was more politically and socially aware of
    the harsh and changing times for black Americans. A decade removed,
    many rappers have tried to “Friendster” their old flame in hopes of
    getting back together with H.E.R. In his latest release, Soul Survivor II — the follow-up to his debut solo album, 1998’s Soul Survivor — Pete Rock can’t quite put this question down either and attempts to bring H.E.R back with a dose of “soul.”

    Rock arrived in a hip-hop moment that coincided with the conservative
    workings of Reaganomics. As a result of the (im)balancing of the budget
    that lead to the neglect and erase of urban (often black) communities,
    some hip-hop artists tried to maintain awareness through lyrics and
    sounds that came from the “souls” of these urban communities. Rock
    often found the perfect beat in blending obscure jazz, funk and soul
    samples that accentuated the messages by his soul brother partner C.L.
    Smooth. On “T.R.O.Y (They Reminisce Over You)” and “Straighten It Out,”
    the multi-layered horns along with C.L. Smooth’s lyrics seemed to make
    you feel harder the experiences of urban turbulence, loss and
    elevation. Rock has survived to see hip-hop age through the gangsta,
    Bad Boy, and current Jacob the Jeweler dynasties, but Survivor II shows a gradual shift in style that is a slight semblance of his previous rhythms.

    This time around, Rock takes a more indie approach. The
    Chocolate Boy Wonder teams with a group of A-list indies, including the
    Native Tongue movement-inspired Talib Kweli, Slum Village, Little
    Brother, Jay Dee, the lyrically creative Pharoah Monch and the more
    militant Dead Prez to name a few. But they fail to catch the beat of
    hip-hop’s more inspired yesteryear.

    Attempts at reviving hip-hop’s politicized sensibilities and neighborhood watching are sometimes available on Survivor II,
    but often come off as didactic. Instead of creating a more united idea
    of a hip-hop nation, Pete Rock and his host of emcees take aim at
    what’s wrong with artists today. On “Truth Is,” spoken-word artist
    Black Ice sets the tone by claiming how black artists set themselves up
    to be bamboozled by the industry. “We Good” with Kardinall Offishall
    and “Just Do It” with Pharoah Monche feature uninspiring lyrics
    scolding rapper’s bling mentality over equally uninspiring and
    stripped-down guitars.

    On “Beef,” we start to hear a more vintage Pete Rock sound,
    with a darker mood set off by creeping pianos and flute-y synths. But
    Krumbsnatcha does not quite fit the feeling with the banal hook, as he
    rhymes: “Ya’ll don’t want beef/ Ya’ll don’t want that/ Get caught up in
    these streets/ Get shot up by these heats.” This makes you wonder what
    how much hotter Mos Def’s “Beef” might have been if he hooked up with
    Pete Rock instead.

    The brighter moments on this album don’t come when people are being
    called out, but when Pete Rock is giving out hugs. On “Appreciate” with
    C.L. Smooth, “Give it to You” and “No Tears,” Pete Rock shows us that
    he’s not looking for ordinary love on that we-are-the-world type vibe.
    The texture of these songs shows he’s not just looking for
    understanding; he’s trying to make change.

    Saving hip-hop is a huge task that Pete Rock and his collaborations don’t quite accomplish on Survivor II. With a resume as thick as Luke dancers, Survivor II
    disappoints with few tracks showing much crate potential. Pete Rock is
    unable to resurrect his soulful style in his one-night stand with
    H.E.R., but it’s nice to know some people still care.

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