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We’re all very familiar with this infamous rap list: Canibus, Jin, Serius Jones, etc. These are the many gifted, hungry MCs who could light up freestyle cyphers for large cash prizes but never could build that into a successful rap career or, sometimes, even get one started. Battle-rap beast and champion Iron Solomon similarly paid his dues on that circuit, dominating competitions such as Braggin’ Writes, Scribble Jam, and Fight Klub. But with the arrival of his debut album, Monster, the question put to those punchline kings must also be asked of Solomon: Are his battle-tested rhymes only capable of producing a one-dimensional LP? Well, the short answer is definitely no.

This first official full-length from the Manhattan native proves that he’s, in fact, more than just a motherf*cking Monster on the microphone. He takes common rap themes and linear concepts and molds them around various autobiographical tropes of family, New York city life, and, especially, the struggle to make it in the industry. His journey to fame highlights some of the album’s best tracks, including “15 Minutes,” “Breathe,” and the opening track, “Almost There” with its lush strings, horns, and cathedral choir vocals over thumping drums. However, the ode to his hometown, “The Empire” appropriately featuring Talib Kweli, is his most multidimensional offering wherein he lyrically wraps his braggadocio, social consciousness, and storytelling abilities into one grandiose and anthemic banger.

Compared to the one-liners he used to defeat Jin at Fight Klub, Solomon may have toned down the aggression a smidgen for the album. But, fans need not worry and can still expect those clever punchlines sprinkled throughout: “I’m inside a Ford, with a Ford model/You’re in your mom’s Ford, a ’94 model” (from “15 Minutes”). What’s interesting about his many boasts – and there are plenty – is that they show some complexity too. There’s the extreme, “I’m like Mohammed to Muslims, like Jesus to Christians/I’m likes Moses in Egypt, but I ain’t preaching religion” on “Nothing to Lose,” or just the plain vulgar, “[Girls] wanna fuck me, wanna hump me, wanna hug me for survival/it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white, they love me like a Michael” on “Get on My Level.” In both, there’s room for acknowledging another layer of thought besides just “I’m better than you,” but he still can run wild with crazy hyperbole.

So, now the more thorough answer to the original question. Even though Solomon clearly proves he is able to create well-rounded songs instead of a bunch of tracks pointlessly showing off his rhyme skills, he does fall prey to one trap; and that is, the conception of Monster as a whole is a little formulaic. Relationship songs like the pop-rock “Classic Girl” and the slower “Tug of War” seem to overcompensate for his battle-rap pedigree and can suggest the many failed debuts from major-label artists who came up from the underground. This is not the case with Solomon’s first release, especially considering that he and his in-house team produced the album entirely themselves, but it definitely keeps Monster from being a distinctively original work. Thus, the next question becomes: Can he improve on this, avoiding a sophomore slump? We can only wait and see..

-Cyril Cordor

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