Ever had an opportunity in life that you let slip by, and wish that you had a do-over button? This is how I felt for the group formerly known as “A Yellow Man”, now apparently rebranded as “Hawk House”. My mixed feelings even in writing this are difficult to explain. That’s because this new mix tape – “A Little More Elbow Room” (the millennials version of an EP) by Hawk House is quite possibly the DOPEST hip hop I’ve heard in the last 15 years. Yet, somehow, simultaneously, the most disappointing. More detail on that in a moment. Fo real. I mean, I would put this work up there with The Low End Theory of secular hip hop if I could. It’s groundbreaking IMHO.
You can download it free here:
You have to understand, this guy right here used to collect every possible B-Side and Native tongues hip hop type jam ever released. That’s right, every remix, B-Side, and rare mix that you could get your hands on. Clear Lake Auditorium by De La Soul even, and that only ever dropped on wax! What I’m saying is that back in the day I was like the antiques collector of underground and abstract flavor hip hop. It was hobby that I took seriously. Sometimes after getting out of high school, I would shoot into downtime Raleigh, NC to hit up Mr. Freeze’s record store. All vinyl. Or, I would hit up School Kids records on Falls Ave, or stop by the local record shop to get the newest scoop from a beat writer for the underground hip hop scene. I actually ran into the Fu Schnikens one day when their album dropped and they were promoting it in the store. I still pride myself on having the first Roots album a year before it ever came out. I had it on a cassette tape that the beat writer had slipped to me. He told me, “Do not share this with anybody! I could get in trouble, but you have to hear this!” I let everybody I knew listen to that Maxwell cassette tape. I was bobbing my head to “I Shall Proceed” before people even knew that hip hop could be played by a live band. 😉
So, when I say I’m a redeemed underground hip hop head, I really mean it.
I mark the Pharcyde’s last real album (LabCabinCalifornia), as the end of the golden era of hip hop. The last great bastion of dope rhymes and beats. The late 80’s and early 90’s were the gold standard of real hip hop. Back when the rap portion of hip hop left no room for those who tried to pass on hot beats alone. Nah, the bar was set much higher back then. You had to prove. It required real, thoughtful, and cutting lyrics, that had the ability to uplift the listener, the community and any others who dared listen to the enlightened street-wise rhymes of self-educated griots. It was usually chock full of truth proclamation, and knowledge droppin’, minus the most important element to real change – Jesus. I always knew “it” (secular hip hop) was missing “The Main Ingredient” (insider hip hop heads know why I just put that last phrase in quotes” – LOL), but it was much better than the alternative. Ignorance.
So, at the ripe young age of 35, I had my hopes set apparently a bit too high when I thought I was witnessing firsthand the resurrection of real hip hop with incredible lyricism, and to boot, blatant lyrics about Jesus, grace, sanctification and much more. All of this rolled into one package, I won’t lie, was almost to much to digest. I had dusted off my former glory days, and was chomping at the bit in anticipation of “A Yellow Man” dropping their album with everything mentioned above on par. I had visions of listening to the whole thing cover to cover with my youngins’. A passing of the torch to the new generation. But this time a 100% Christ-redeemed version of dope hip hop. “See fellas, this is real hip hop, I would say.” Ha! Then, just the other day, I visited a Yellow Man’s Facebook page, and realized that they had relocated to a new home and name – “Hawk House”. Huh?! Que the dramatic music in the background, because this is where the disappointment happens……
Not only had this incredible gospelized Digable Planets-like duo of two males, and a female emcee slash vocalist changed their name from a Yellow Man, which was conceptually fresh! I mean, the group name alone could be a conversation starter with the potential to witness. They had seemingly all but buried their past identity. I listened to a few sample tracks on the Facebook newsfeed and quickly realized that things had changed. They went mainstream, in their own unique way. The lyrics were not only more abstract (which I actually dig), but they had hidden the truth too deep in the music. It was no longer clear where they were coming from. Darn!
C’mon fellas, why did you have to do it? Why bury real knowledge too deep to discern it apart from the surrounding material? Oh well, I guess i get it. Bring it down a few notches to reach the wider audience. But man, I guess there’s a fine line between reaching people and confronting people with THE Truth. It’s almost analogous to selling the truth in small and infrequent nuggets versus giving people the full course meal of the gospel. It’s the difference between more expository preaching and teaching versus the fluffy three-verse sermon mixed in with self-help gospel, motivating quotes, and tidbits. To be fair though, some of the songs carry more frequent nugget dropping then others. I get it, but I was just anticipating something different. Something that I had never witnessed before.
Regardless, what I can’t deny is that the mixtape is by far the freshest stuff I’ve heard in well over a decade. Who knows, maybe I’m just a retired hip hop junkie who was so anxious about their full release that I’m jumping the gun here. Maybe the mixtape was just a teaser to lure in the curious. So that when the full album drops, heads (and hearts) will be ready (to receive). Nonetheless, I will be wearing this mixtape out for the next few weeks/months.
Here’s one of my favorite tracks. The hook alone is sick… “The sounds the boat, we sail the globe..” WHAAAAAAAT! YES! It’s bouncy like any feel-good hip hop track should be, with a fresh hook, and the lady emcees rhymes are just plain heat.
Hawk House: “Round We Go”