Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reviews:: Ira Lee - Die

For a minute, I thought Saskatchewan had an answer for the hip hop gauntlet I've been throwing down over the last few months. Ira Lee's new album Die with a Regina postmark, but myspace and other sources list Ira as being from Edmonton, so it looks like Saskatchewan is in the mix, but Alberta hip hop wins again. Which shouldn't surprise you if you're a regular here on the hill, as Albertans have shown more hip hop hustle than any of the other provinces.

What is surprising is this description on the front page of his bio:

Ira Lee grew up poor. Selling cats and bikes to eat. He lives with his dog Charger in a shotgun shack, just north of sixty. With a tin cup tied to his heart and a pile of mud in his hand, he travels the world making art out of wet things and eating fast. Ira Lee is the sex that gave you aids.

Well then. Not your average rapper's bio, but clearly Ira Lee isn't your average rapper. After spending 5 years working as an Aboriginal youth services instructor for YMCA Canada, Lee sought, and received, funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the government of Canada to turn his performance skills and love of hip hop into a series of educational workshops. Out of those experiences comes Ira's latest album Die. It comes literally from that experience as the second disc is produced and co-written by many of the kids Ira has worked with across Canada. So, before even hearing it, this is an interesting album just based on the Ira's bio and the album's background alone. But is is any good?

The short answer is yes, it's quite good in my humble opinion. Ira has a wordy, and at times almost spoken wordish flow, but he's confident and charismatic, so it works. He also has a penchant for saying provocative things about the state of hip hop, and the world in general. However, he does so with a clever wordplay ("My tongue is proverbially in cheek, so pull up your tube socks and pass me a juicebox tout de suite" - Who Got Beep) and, most of the time, a sense of humor, so that keeps him from seeming too fanatical. Simply put, as improbable as it might seem with Ira's self-deprecating, emo-rap steez, he really does come across as an engaging guy. And believe me, it isn't easy to come across as engaging while rapping about your problems with excessive sweating (Wet), but Ira manages to do it with one quotable line after another:

I have a reason for sweatbands, even when I'm freezing I'm a seasonal wetlands

Massive pit salts, crazy off the hook, trust me they feel even more disgusting than they look

This pattern repeats itself whether Ira is pouring lyrical gasoline on Alberta and setting it on fire (Alberta's Trying To Kill Me, simply a tremendous song), discussing his love-hate relationship with bugs (Bugs), debunking Santa Claus for the kids (Anti-Clause), or dissing club DJ's (your dj's a gaylord). The subject matter may vary, but Ira has a way of leaving you wanting to hear more.

Musically, the album is also quite good, with Ira producing the entire first disc himself, and Saskatchewan's Critical Mass providing the production for the second disc. Ira's production style leans more towards the sparse side of the spectrum, with sampled boom bap feeling drums (might just be me, but it sounds like the drums on Alberta's Trying To Kill Me were chopped from The Power. I enjoy it) and scratched in soul samples (scratches done by Ira as well, this is truly a DIY effort). The second disc feels a little more electronic, with chopped up breakbeats and ambient sounds being the order of the day there. In either case, the beats tend to take a secondary role to Ira's many and varied musings. That's not to say the beats aren't quality, I certainly think they're solid, it's just that Ira is the kind of MC you find yourself listening closely to, and that tends to push the beats into the background.

Ok, that's plenty of waffle from me on this album, here's the deal: I like it. Even if Ira seems like he might be hard to like in real-life, I like his album plenty. In an effort to round this review off nicely, I'll simply say that if you're a serious follower of the Canadian rap scene, this is a must listen. But it certainly shouldn't be limited to Canada. If you like underground (for lack of a better term) hip hop (Sage Francis, Sole, Buck 65, Slug, etc. and so on) this album is definitely worth a listen as well.

MP3:: Ira Lee - alberta's trying to kill me

MP3:: Ira Lee - wet f. geneva b.

myspace :: web

Posted at 9:10 AM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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