For nearly 20 years, the Bay Area-based Hip Hop record label and artist collective Quannum Projects has remained a fixture on the once crowded indie rap scene. Forming as Soleside Records back in 1992, the label now houses respected acts Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, Blackalicious and Pigeon John among others.
Latryx, a duo consisting of the aforementioned Lyrics Born and Lateef The Truthspeaker, made waves with their 1997 debut The Album which got an update in 2002. However in 2011, Lateef has decided to take the solo leap in his career with his long-awaited debut album Firewire – an eclectic mix of tracks that showcase Lateef’s formidable ability but underwhelms briefly at points.
The opening track “Let’s Get Up” produced by Lateef’s Maroons partner Chief Xcel gets the album off to a decent start as the funky track is bolstered by confident rhymes from Lateef that would do well in a live setting. After a brief interlude, the track “Oakland” appears which features Bay Area rhyme slingers Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and The Grouch of venerated rap crew Living Legends. The rock influenced production is the highlight although Del shows a lot of veteran prowess.
“Only Thought” highlights Lateef’s capable singing ability, as the guitar-tinged production is just busy enough and gives the rapper’s confident vocals plenty of space to breathe; The track is an early highlight. “We The People” from producer Chief Xcel is a noisy, busy mess and, while the approach is respectable, Lateef’s strong message is lost in the chaos of production. Lateef bounces back with “Heckuvit”, an astounding display of styles and vocals with a track that matches the energy of the lyrical performance. This is arguably the strongest work on the album.
DJ Shadow provides an amazing platter for Lateef on “Say What You Want”, and The Truthspeaker’s signing voice captivates as Shadow’s percussion-heavy groove takes the song to higher levels. The album ends with “Inside You” featuring Karyn Paige, and again Lateef’s effortless segue into singer mode impress yet again. The song is seemingly somber but becomes a triumphant chant towards the end. Firewire may not ignite the senses of every rap fan, but there are enough twists in turns even in its rote moments that keep the listeners engaged over the duration of the album.
– D.L. Chandler