If there was ever a moment in time when Esham seemed positioned to break out of the Midwest and expand his small cult audience, the summer of 2001 stood as that golden moment. Primarily thanks to Eminem's enormous success the year before and the substantial hype surrounding D-12, many were suddenly eyeing the Motor City as a potential hotspot for dysfunctional rap artists. And if the public wanted dysfunctional artists, Esham certainly fit the bill. Furthermore, Overcore -- Esham's label, led by producer Santos -- beefed up its reputation by releasing albums by the infamous Kool Keith and the Dayton Family before dropping Tongues, in hopes of building up as much anticipation as possible. Yet if everyone was looking at Tongues as the album that would enable Esham to cross over to mainstream success, they were foolish. Tongues is too far out of the ordinary to cross over -- creative, yes, but also odd. First of all, it's filled to the brim with 24 songs and no interludes, meaning that few songs could clock over three minutes. The countless songs segue into one another with surprising ease, making the album seem like an extended medley. Secondly, the production style varies considerably from song to song. Esham and Santos' beats are dense, lo-fi, and often characterized by an unfamiliar combination of synthesizers, guitars, and drum programming. In terms of songwriting, few of the songs, given their brevity, follow a linear verse-chorus-verse template. There are a handful of standout songs with hooks, but a good majority of the songs are experiments that are often awkward. Finally, Esham's rhymes find him returning to his psychotic early-'90s roots, the sort of insane behavior that scares most people. In the end, while Tongues is no doubt Esham's most labored and ambitious album to date, it's also a challenging album that is accessible only in spots. There are career highlights such as his collaborations with Keith on "All Night Everyday" and the Dayton Family on "Fuck a Lover" -- along with "God," "Everyone," and "So Selfish," three other great moments. Unfortunately, there are a number of rough areas on the album as well, particularly the first few songs. But at least, even if Esham is forever damned to underground status, he's incorporating an impressive degree of creativity and courage; very few rap artists are capable of crafting an album this dense and this labored, even if it is purposefully inaccessible.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Violent J
feat: Kool Keith