It’s hard out here for a poet. In a hip-hop world where beats, hooks, swagger and bullet wounds converge to carry an MC to stardom, Azeem is trying to make his mark with dense and thoughtful lyricism. As a result, hip-hop heads will find themselves rooting for the Oakland wordsmith, earnestly wanting to fall in love with his third album, Air Cartoons. Yet, despite the depth and breadth of his rhymes, most will have a hard time moving much beyond simple respect and admiration.
An accomplished spoken word artist, Azeem seems most comfortable over tense, murky, slightly distorted soundscapes, which lead him into darkly philosophical lyrical territory. The first half of the album doesn’t stray too far from this formula, and makes for a compelling listen, exemplified by “What If,” where he challenges the listener to question all that we take as truth. ”What if killing Kennedy was real a coup?/what if a Illuniati ran things, what if they still do?/What if the Bush family let the drugs come through?/What if the CIA had a role in it too?”
Perhaps fearing that an entire album of moody, cerebral rhymes and brooding tracks might very well lead to a run on Paxil among backpackers, Azeem attempts to diversify his sound around the midway point, and the album begins losing steam. “I’m Wac Pt.2” is a clever Parody, packed with tongue in cheek braggadocio about the ridiculousness of the current mainstream persona of hip-hop. Unfortunately the arhythmic drums and intentionally sloppy synths prove to be grating to the ear in a way that is more annoying than humorous. As the album progresses, the beats grow increasingly minimalist and uptempo, a style of production that begs for an emcee who can flat out rip it on the party and/or battle tip, which simply isn’t Azeem’s style.
The album closes strong with Azeem waxing philosophical about the nature of evil over spooky synths and a jittery Linn Drum on “Triple 6’s,” but that mainly serves to remind the listener of the potential Azeem has to establish himself as a premier lyricist should he choose to follow his darker impulses over the course of a full album.
– Jeff Harvey