Unless you have a solid knowledge of early-nineties underground hip-hop, after a glance at Starchild‘s low-res cover and poorly designed packaging, your first impression of O.C. is likely to be a negative one. The emcee released a near-classic in the golden year of ’94, Word … Life, but the fact that it was on the failing (though well-regarded) Wild Pitch Records, and that it seemed more connected to the conscious hip-hop of the early nineties than the soon-to-come commercial explosion, doomed it to obscurity. Now, ten years later, O.C. couldn’t even find a North American label to pick up the bill for sample clearances to allow a domestic release. He had to settle for Japan despite a reasonably strong following among hardcore hip-hop fans.
So, for the average listener, digging into the little-known Queens rapper’s fourth album will be quite a surprise. The contents are neither the hippy musings the title would lead you to expect, nor the amateur product usually found cheaply packaged like this. It’s a beats-and-rhymes album: one guest appearance by Pharoahe Monch from Organized Konfusion (O.C. cut his teeth on O.K.’s 1991 single “Fudge Pudge”) and little else. But it’s also a showcase for a great emcee that time forgot. Tracks such as “Who Run It?” and “Ya Don’t Stop” are kept afloat because of his strong presence. His flow channels Nas quite often, and even some of the beats sound like lesser Nas tracks, particularly “The Professional.”
But the beats are, unsurprisingly, a weakness, with virtual unknowns the Locsmif and Soul Survivor providing the majority of the production. The latter is more successful, with “Memory Lane” and, especially, the excellent “What Am I Supposed to Do?” showing everyone what O.C. can do with a beat that kills. But most of the record becomes a struggle between top-shelf rhymes and mid-shelf beats. “Evaridae” has the great guest appearance by Pharoahe Monch, but the beat is second rate Nicolay. Even worse is “Getaway,” the sub-Kanye track that falls flat from the first pitched-up sample. O.C. has so much potential that it becomes almost difficult to listen to an average release from him. But when I think of all the emcees who release records stateside every day that couldn’t hold a candle to him, I think about how this record isn’t a disappointment at all. It’s hip-hop, done for the love of it, and it shows.