Contrary to the declarations of a certain Aubrey Graham, Drake is not the first dude to rap and sing. If you’re on this website then you probably already know that–what you may not know is that Drake isn’t even the first cat in the game from Toronto to have that particular skillset. T.Dot veteran rapper, producer, and singer Saukrates has been doing it longer and if his second full length LP Season One is any indication, he also juggles the two more ably. Saukrates nearly singlehandedly paved the way for rhymeslingers of the Canadian persuasion with his seminal 1999 classic The Underground Tapes, an album of wall to wall bangers and collabs with a who’s who of the jansport set; Pharoahe Monch, Common, Heltah Skeltah, and a pre-Pimp My Ride Xzibit. In the interim he’s put in work with Redman as member of the Gilla House crew, in addition to frequently collaborating with fellow Canuck Nelly Furtado and being the leader of his own R&B and rap collective Big Black Lincoln. To the chagrin of fans of his earlier more hip hop-minded material, Season One is Big Sox indulging his softer side. but if they can overcome the inevitable sense of R&Betrayal and give this an honest listen, it’s impossible to be mad at this man. He’s a once in a generation talent.
“Season One”–the intro and title track–goes hard. A symphony of baritone horns and ominous, malevolent bass propel the beat while Saukrates spits a verse that slaps haters and doubters in line. It’s a great start, but it’s also the premise of one of the biggest bait-and-switches of the year. The next track “Say I” is emblematic of the album’s sound as a whole–glittery, poppy, and synth-heavy. Season One is a far cry from the gritty meat-n-potatoes beats and rhymes hip-hop that many have come to expect from Saukrates. Despite this unforeseen turn in sensibility, this is a good album by the standards of any genre. Saukrates is a beast of a creative force, and outside of a few guest spots, everything on Season One–production, rhymes, and vocals–is his own.
“What A Day” is a beautiful piece where his versatility is truly at the forefront. Over a wistful piano-laden backdrop Sox exhibits his vocal chops with a dulcet singing voice, seamlessly spliced with the sincere and introspective bars of an ode to a paramour. If there are any lingering doubts about this cat’s overall musical talent, “Lost” will blast those to kingdom come. Calling it “just” an R&B track doesn’t do it justice-it’s the kind of music Michael Jackson would make if he was still alive. The production on the track is infectious and tight as the face of a snare drum. Saukrates eschews rapping in favor of taking a more emotional approach to getting his feelings out, proving in the process that he is not a rapper playing at singing. This dude has got serious pipes.
As much as it may pain fans familiar with the backpacker past of Saukrates that there aren’t any features with Sean Price and the like this time around, this is who Saukrates is in 2012. He is capable of making hip-hop that stands the test of time but he can do the same with R&B and pop…and if the incredulous and those crying foul simply let go of their insularity and give Season One a chance, it may broaden their horizons.
- T. Love