The Experienced Listener Presents: Will I.E. (The Example), by A.P.
…And that’s pronounced “A-dot-P-dot”.
As a Southern Gent, I prefer thought-provoking lyricism over the usual down-south blend of commercial jingles; sorry for paying attention in school. As such, I have a special place in my pacemaker for the East Coast, because they kept my mind occupied during times when the South… just wasn’t using its head. I’ve got exceptional love for the Dungeon Family, but I’ve also got love for the Wu Tang Clan.* So when the RZA posts up a video for up-and-coming artist, A.P. (again, “A-dot P-dot”), I click it. And I click it with full confidence that I’m about to hear good music.
…But not this good. The mixtape Will I.E. (The Example) is, in my opinion, above and beyond, the most complete mixtape I’ve entertained so far. When I say ‘complete’, I mean it leaves nothing by the end of it except an overwhelming desire to start back at track one and let the whole thing play through again.
The opening selection, I Don’t Know About You, brings its own southern sensibilities, as New Jersey based A.P. teams up with the legendary hot-grits-convert himself, Rev. Al Green. The beat comes in and it’s that vintage Al Green sound that any old school listener would recognize. Seconds later, you hear the loop skip off-time in typical East Coast hip-hop fashion. Then a string section comes that’s so country it sounds like Sunday morning gold shining through a kitchen window. Enters A.P.:
…Go ahead and focus nigga/
The bio-pic of a once-hopeless nigga/
Grew not to be shit, but a hopeless nigga/
Daddy passed when I was young, I was told his liver/
I never asked how come, ‘cause that reason differ/
From the shit that I’ve seen, I clearly remember/
His agenda was to be inebriated/
But his embryo peeped it all… educated/
Now they thinking my fate’s premeditated/
Yet I’m prime example; call me ‘Willie-We-Made-It’/
Look in the sky like, “Yo, Willie, we made it!”/
For all the celebration, the pain never faded/
In that one verse, A.P. conceptualizes this mixtape— the story of a young man witnessing the traits of his father emerging in his life, despite his father’s physical absence due to death. The recurring theme is ‘the example’ set by the father that is modeled by the son. And I feel like this concept mixtape is of great cultural significance, because we severely underestimate and underemphasize the role that fathers play in shaping and molding a generation.
Over a serene instrumental complete with what sounds like rushing water in the background, Reincarnation, begins to paint a tragic picture of A.P. slipping into drug use. The song is very cleverly worded; you almost have to listen peripherally to get the mental imagery of what’s going on.
Niggas some space, just like a tap-in/
Rocked up or all soft like a fat kid/
How you want it it’s arrangable let’s converse/
But registered nurse have to administer it first/
First, Your friends try to save you from that pleasure/
But their interventions overturned by your peer pressure/
Near better, apply pressure my name/
Rollin up ya sleeve; tappin at ya vein/
The theme of ‘the example’ shows up again in this line:
Seen Willie do the same, so traumatized/
But I got it magnified when, in my momma eyes/
Good luck, hook stuck’d… on that vision like addiction/
Then I took too many losses and the bug start ta itchin’/
When the child doesn’t know how to cope, he recalls the coping mechanisms of his parents and develops a rock habit. …I can’t say enough how culturally pertinent this mixtape is. I could introduce this mixtape in a sociology or psychology class and teach an entire lesson based on it…
On the track Sometimes, A.P. revisits his thought process reluctantly entering the drug game. It’s interesting hearing how he on one hand despises the effect of drugs on his family— particularly his father— but on the other hand sees the potential for surviving day-to-day by selling them.
…Every hustler my influence/
But the stuff they were moving got my father goin thru it/
…Got temptations of the streets on my back/
Wanna eat? push a pack cross the street/
…Cuz my dad went that way/
I tried, but MJ backslide like Motown 25/
I’ve go to say, those last two lines are some of the hardest lines I’ve EVER heard spit. A.P. doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps, but reluctantly returns to his path; Michael Jackson doesn’t want to return to the Jackson 5, but moonwalks back to the stage with the group of his father’s creation at Motown’s 25th anniversary. The only thing that could make that set more potent would be if A.P. happened to be 25 years old when he went into the drug game. If you don’t recognize anything else at this point, recognize that this man is a lyrical force of TERRIBLE power.
The next track off Will I.E. (The Example), entitled Don’t Blame Me, is a very cool track. But cool is too simple a word; more like effortless, without the negative connotation. A song that comes off as second nature because it’s so real. It’s a conventional coming-of-age joint, spit over a very East Coast swing instrumental with scratches and samples of hip hop classics scattered throughout. In the song, A-dot emphasizes the role that hip hop has played in his life; it’s a breath of fresh[er] air after all the drug discussion leading up to it. I hate to talk about choruses and hooks, but this album so accurately reflects the formula:
Ya gonna see a lot of things in this lifetime/
You gotta match the perfect beat with the right rhyme/
…I know it doesn’t seem like much, but living in the South, you’d be surprised how many cats will take an R&B instrumental and try to bang and slang over it; I live here, see it all the time. Tell you something else I see all the time too:
LL Cool J is hard as hell…/
Excelled at school work, could hardly tell/
I was rapped up in KRS instead of my CAT test/
Rakim I loved, not my evens and odds/
I could hardly add together, but know bout Salt-N-Pepa/
Not saying I’m special ed., but I just bought the record/
…I thank God A-dot was doing well in school back then; nowadays, young wannabe-rappers can’t read or write. And they wonder why my verses don’t sound like theirs? …Education. :-\
Not only is this mixtape a great introduction to A.P., but also to the lovely new talent Netousha Monroe, who accompanies him on three of the twelve tracks. The first track is an uplifting song called S.H.I.N.E.. Contrary to what you and I both assumed, it’s not the typical song about a rapper and his valuables. It’s a song about A-dot’s aspirations to success. In other words, he hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s determined to be there; it’s almost like he’s acknowledging a place that already belongs to him:
Yo, streets tryin’ take me, but I wont’ go…/
Slow money tryna make it, no I’m gon blow…/
Yeah I’m conceited, and I’ll admit it… f#ck it/
If it keep my dreams inflated, then one fo these b!tches gone blow…/
I was born with a warm glow; see the hue when I walk…/
Jersey state of mind, yet I’m tryna be skyline/
Like the view in New York and shine!/
And then that voice comes on… MAN Netousha Monroe has a sweet tone! The way she ends this song… no wonder he put her on again on the next track, Macy’s Day Parade… and again two tracks later on Everyday (My Way). When it feels right, it feels right… (By the way, Sherlock isn’t sure what each letter in the acronym S.H.I.N.E. stands for, but he’s pretty sure the ‘H’ stands for ‘Hustle’.)
Can’t Let Go (Interlude) is supposed to be an interlude. …But eff that. This is a freakin song. And it’s dope. The beat is smooth as can be and lyrically A-dot goes off. So, why is it an interlude? Well, compared to the rest of this project, A-dot’s really just tooting his horn here. Put it this way: every other mixtape out there, with few exceptions, is 29 tracks of “I’m the sh!t”; A-dot gives us 11 tracks of an actual concept album, and saves his “I’m the sh!t” for this one track. Think of it as a commercial interruption… during the Super Bowl. You might LIKE the commercial, but let’s get back to the game.
As I said before, Netousha Monroe makes a third appearance on the track Everyday (My Way). This time, she embodies a somewhat Corinne Bailey Rae-ish energy as she melts over the chorus. And I do mean melt; her sound is luxurious on this track. Meanwhile, A-dot P-dot, what he would do if he could have his way for a day. As I listened, these lines kinda jumped out at me:
[And plus I prolly got a…]
Criminal trial on the way (damn)/
But still I try to smile every day/
Like fuck what Storm Phil say/
They dorm livin, I’m real stay/
Guests… it’s like off-campus housing/
But every other week, I was off campus wilin’/
So on one hand, he’s talking about how he wishes things could be. And on the other hand, he’s realizing the gravity of reality, which makes those wishes even more precious.
…Ya’ll really need to peep this mixtape, in all seriousness. I can’t even find the words right now.
Close (What I Want) is up next, as we draw closer to the close of the mixtape. It’s a clever song, where A-dot shows his lyrical prowess, taking the word ‘close’ and applying it in different capacities to get across his overall point that he’s drawing near to his goals as an artist.
Gettin closer to my dream, was a close call/
Couldn’t close out my debts ‘til I was close to a fiend/
Later that same verse:
I’m supposed to win the way I do; marry success/
Be our witness as we say I do; kiss with our eyes closed/
…Now we getting closer and intimate/
And it’s far from over, just getting into it/
A.P. proceeds to put down his heart for success and pick up his heart for his lady love in a song about his real difficulties in love. Invoking the talents of the Songstress herself Marsha Ambrosious, Feel Like I Feel reveals A.P.’s father’s essence rearing itself yet again as he attempts to move forward in his relationship.
She say I’m hard to love, well maybe girl it was hard enough/
That growin up I had a father I ain hardly hug/
Because of that, part of me’s f#cked up/
Now my mother startin to see, I do partly what he does/
Then again in the second verse:
Now she callin up my momma for insight/
We been arguing all week, but on that tenth night/
Shit… it almost turned into a fist fight/
Reincarnation of my father, how it get like… this/
It’s at this point in the mixtape that I realize, somewhere between A.P.’s rhymes and the production backing him, the streets become romanticized in this project in a way I haven’t ever heard. I think a down-to-Earth young lady with class could appreciate this mixtape. Just the sincerity alone… I mean, when’s the last time you’ve heard a rapper express his vulnerabilities?
…A non-acting rapper, I mean.
A song of determination, Ten Fold has A.P. declaring that he will reap 10 times whatever he sacrifices to reach his dreams.
While some choose to lose, I choose to prove something/
…No, not to anybody in particular/
But to my damn self, but that every fall was worth getting up/
And I ain’t preaching like a biship does,/
But I could abeen on that same mission that Bishop was/
Rebel with no pause; ready to go hard/
But someday, I’m gonna change the odds, this I knew/
And speaking of Bishop…
Before we get to our last track and its video, a quick note about Earl Grey Summers: I’m a big fan of the X-Men. I get the name “Earl Grey Summers” from the character Nathan Summers, a time-travelling, cybernetic mutant otherwise known as ‘Cable’. So when I first see the video for All I Seen, what catches my eye immediately is the futuristic-looking, chronometric heads-up-display surrounding A.P.’s eye; I gotta get me one of those. The song is, in short, amazing; like the credit roll to someone’s entire lifetime. Produced by Illmind, All I Seen gives us A.P.’s interpretation of his life’s journey through the eyes of his mother, himself as a fiend in the streets, and himself as a son. Very introspective, very profound… it’s a culmination of all the energy invested in this project. And, frankly, I can’t stop playing it. It’s about 7 plays away from becoming an all-time favorite.
Never before have I heard the streets romanticized to this degree. The closest I can think of to what A.P. musically brings to the table is the Wu Tang’s Ghostface Killah. But A-dot hasn’t collected that many chains. He’s not the champ yet; he’s gotta get the people first. And on that note, I’d like to cash my chips in; I wanna see this cat succeed. I should be hearing All I Seen, Everyday (My Way), and Feel Like I Feel on the radio RIGHT NOW. What’s the hold up…