Oregon isn’t even the Northwesternmost state in the Continental United States, but it may as well be Alaska in Hip-Hop geography. The capitol city of Portland has in fact graced us with worthwhile acts such as Lifesavas and Braille, so it’s no magic trick when local artist Serge Severe gets your head nodding. The Portland native may not be a trailblazer (bad pun), but this intelligent, Urb Next 1000 member embodies all of the necessary traits of a true MC. Serge’s latest project, Concrete Techniques, was entirely produced by Universal DJ Sect, which sounds like a cult for turntable lovers.
Storming through the gate with “Here We Come,” Serge makes his M.O. clear; witty wordplay, rhyme schemes that require delicate care and flashes of confidence but never cockiness. For the most part, Concrete Techniques follows this pattern of free-flowing lyricism, or lack of a pattern. The often feel-good content can’t be nailed down to particular subjects since Serge’s verses are ever-evolving. In his words, “No Cadillac doors or battle axe swords.” As always, there are exceptions. The intense “Break Dream” chronicles an affair with Hip-Hop that began at five years old, while “This Path” further investigates Serge’s life choices. “Slow Down” with Mic Crenshaw encourages pumping the brakes when caught in the fast lane. The rest consists of Serge in his previously established comfort zone. Universal DJ Sect’s production can be partially summed up by song titles such as “Bring the Horns” or “Ain’t It Funky,” although lumping “Classic Ish” into that group might be a stretch. The blaring horns and funky rhythms in question leave joints like “Concrete Techniques” sounding as crisp as live instrumentation. U.D.S. dug-up plenty of gems in the funk and jazz department, so don’t expect sleep-inducing loops or samples that sound as if they’ve been put through the wringer.
“Concrete Techniques” was once an opening line by Inspecteh Deck, and now it’s a refreshing piece of work by Serge Severe. It’s not that he’s reinventing the wheel, but actually doing something well in today’s Hip-Hop market is a breath of fresh air. Whether cult or beatmaker, Universal DJ Sect found that rare balance of digging and ignoring limitations. A few of the tracks displayed Serge’s knack for substance, so perhaps he’ll delve deeper inside with the next album. For now, fresh rhymes are hitting the spot. To simplify using his own words, Serge is just a “speech conductor over sweet production.”
- Andrew Jones