Freestyle Fellowship The Promise

Freestyle FellowshipThe Promise
Known for their styling on the mic, Freestyle Fellowship have already influenced a surprisingly large number, and cross-section, of MCs with their jazz-inspired bouillabaisse of double-time raps, jazz scat and harmonized almost-singing over jazzy, soulful hip-hop beats. Now celebrating 20 years since the release of debut album To Whom It May Concern, the legendary West coast rap unit drop their first group effort in nine years, and the quartet of MCs remain true to the promise they made on that first album to "never fall the fuck off." While the Fellowship retain their verbal gymnastics for The Promise, they opt for a harder, more aggressive production style, and Eligh, Exile, Omid, Kenny Segal and E Super step up to the challenge superbly. After a two-minute music-backed spoken word "Introduction," first single "We Are" re-introduces Freestyle Fellowship with crazy flows and braggadocio raps from Aceyalone, Myka 9, PEACE and Self Jupiter over airy keys, an up-tempo drum loop that borders on drum & bass and frequent stabs of dark, deep bass synth. But it's the following track, "This Write Here," which is the clear highlight. It's more flow flexing on the mic, but Omid's beat crushes with simple drums and lots of low-end synth; it wouldn't sound out of place on an Anti-Pop Consortium album. The addition of crunchy synths and electro-leaning experimentation put the group in new territory, making for a strong first half, but at "Gimme," song seven of the 14 on the album, Freestyle Fellowship start introducing actual topics and content, and the beats mellow into familiar FF territory. Before long, it becomes boring, except for "Popular," where simple guitars and drums back honest, thought-provoking lyrics about fame, almost making up for the filler surrounding it. It's too bad the Fellowship played it safe towards the end, but The Promise is still a great, and welcome, return from this veteran crew. (Decon)