Friday, May 4, 2007

Reviews:: Moka Only - Vermilion

After reviewing a few hip hop albums from Alberta, I thought it was high time to review an album named after a town in Alberta. (As an aside, why does Alberta love the hill so much, yet the other prairie provinces continue to deny us their hip hop? What did we do to you Manitoba hip hop? What exactly is your problem Saskachewan rap? Maybe I'm being paranoid, but it seems like we're getting a middle of winter-in-Churchill-Manitoba style freeze out. But I shall digress.) Moka Only's new album, Vermilion fits the bill quite nicely.

I would guess Moka is most widely known as a on-again, off-again, err, member, of Swollen Members. An original member of that Vancouver-based crew, Moka left the group to pursue (many, he's put out some 22 albums) solo projects. However, it was Moka's work as a guest on Swollen's Bad Dreams that launched both the group, and Moka, into the Canadian mainstream. His sing-song hooks on songs like Fuel Injected and Bring It Home turned out to be the gift and the curse, as they were catchy as hell, but the success garnered from those songs ultimately led to the release of Heavy in 2003, which leaned a little too much towards those mainstream sounds.

Moka ventured off into solo projects again and hooked up with Nettwork to release The Desired Effect in 2005. I will be honest and say that when this album dropped, I saw that video with Moka walking around with chicks on the beach (Once Again), and read some less than favourable reviews and ended up not checking it out for myself. In reality, I should know better than to trust music reviewers, but it seems that Moka wasn't all that happy with The Desired Effect either, feeling he was pushed in a certain direction by the folks at Nettwork. It seems industry rule number 4080 still rears its ugly head, even in Canada.

"Thanks for the Moka Only history lesson!" I hear you saying somewhat sarcastically, so let's discuss the new album. Vermilion was originally done in 2005, but shelved after the aforementioned unpleasantness with Nettwork. But after Urbnet approached him with the idea of putting out an album, Moka decided that Vermilion deserved to see the light of day, so he remixed some of the tracks and voila - a new/old Moka Only album. And the timing couldn't be better, as this is a perfect album for the summer. The breezy tracks and Moka's charismatic, laid-back flow come together Voltron-style to create an album ideal for pumping in the ride with the windows down or jamming in the iPod as you stroll along the waterfront (Haltown or Vancity, I would chuck Toronto in there, but who actually goes down to the waterfront in TO?) on a warm summer day.

Moka produced the entire album, and as rare as it is in today's rap biz, I believe there are no guest MC's. Moka favours programmed drums and synth sounds in his production, but Vermilion certainly has a very traditional hip hop sound to it. Do and God Bless open the album with the organ-filled, slice of life tracks that Moka does so well. I could Give A... is perhaps as angry as you'll find Moka on a track, as he discusses the unpleasant side of the rap biz: "Nettwork didn't want a second round, word? Word, for reasons unknown, but you can take a wild guess. Cause I'm a wildebeest? Cause I'm a mild threat? Cause I'ma still release as often as I get the urge?". It appears Nettwork could not handle the wildebeestness that is Moka Only, or Torch, as he would really like to be known as.

So Kona is a breezy as you would imagine considering it's about Moka cooling out in Hawaii. The Ukulele solo at the end of the track is a very nice touch. The single Search is one of many of the tracks on Vermilion which use vocal samples to help create the light, summerish feeling I mentioned previous. Vermilion, and it's rather elastic bassline, features one of the more bumping beats on the album and Moka rides it to perfection. The jazzy Let Me Down wouldn't be out of place on an old ATCQ album, and is a perfect background for Moka to reaffirm his love for hip hop.

Perhaps you thought Jack Johnson's little ditty would be the only song entitled Banana Pancakes that you would ever hear? Well thanks to this album, you stand corrected. The Taste features a vocal sample which, on first listen, I found annoying, but on subsequent listens became catchy and impossible to get out of my head. Shake Dat Neck is also tabbed as a single, and is probably the closest thing to a "club" track you'll find on this album. Although it isn't really a club track at all, so that might not make sense. The bouncy speakers would've been a nice way to finish up, but for good measure, Moka throws in a non-terrible Tears For Fears cover as a hidden track.

Add it all up, and you have a very good album. Moka is one of the few dudes I've heard that can take what he did yesterday after supper and make it into a song I enjoy listening to. Lyrically, he's not changing the world, but he's not greasing it up with fake-thuggery either, and with the state that hip hop is in now, sometimes that's all you need. Vermilion should certainly appeal to fans of Moka's older work, but I would be surprised if anyone really hated this album. It's really a likable album, and, oh, did I mention it's great summertime listening? Check it out before you blink and summer is gone.

mp3:: Vermilion

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Posted at 12:59 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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