Black Ice

The Death of Willie Lynch

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Seemed like poet/rapper Black Ice's debut album was promised years ago, long before he wowed everyone for five consecutive seasons on HBO's Def Poetry Jam. Stunning appearances on Method Man's Tical 0: The Prequel and Pete Rock's Soul Survivor II -- both released in 2004 -- got people talking, then the "first spoken word artist signed to Def Jam Records" announced two years later his debut was landing on Koch. If his liner note "thank you" to his label ("To KOCH...If the record industry was organized religion, you guys are the yoga center!!!") doesn't convince you the move from major to indie was a smart decision, one listen to the unaffected The Death of Willie Lynch will. First off, there's no parade of superstar guest stars and producers. Instead, Black Ice has enlisted a handful of well-chosen guests and stuck with one producer for the whole shebang, Eric "Booty" Greene. Rather than being a scattershot showoff album, the latter choice keeps Ice's debut flowing like it should, with Greene offering a wealth of ideas without ever losing sight of that "hang together" feeling so many anticipated debuts ignore. It allows Black Ice to roam freely from the opening, bragging track to the heartbreaking "The Ugly Show," which sounds a lot like Kanye West addressing parental neglect with a Rose Royce sample. At one point, West gets a shoutout for his famous post-Katrina/anti-Bush statement, but the superstar's influence is only one in a jumble of many that also includes Gil Scott-Heron, Carl Hancock Rux, 2Pac, and Biggie, but winds up sounding uniquely Black Ice. His delivery could be the textbook example of how to lay poems over hardcore rap beats from here on out, and his writing is riveting and remarkably sharp, providing meaningful, eye-level views of hope and despair. Greene and Ice have brilliantly arced the album to punch the listener in the gut with urgency and then slowly weave in the poet/rapper's heart, soul, and personal struggle. Halfway through there's the convincing anthem for abstinence ("Takeyatime") that cops a bit of Slick Rick's "Hey Young World," and at the end of the album there's a sweet and moving tribute to Mom ("The Real"). Just like his influences, Ice offers much more than protest and rebellion, and while his heavy lyrics are perfect for heavy times, The Death of Willie Lynch suggests he's a versatile artist who would still be vital if every wrong was righted. When he declares, "I done prepared a substantial meal for y'all/And the blessings in the batter," it's the truth.

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