The Experienced Listener Presents: State of the Art, by Honors English
So a few months ago, after publishing my review of A.P. (pronounced A-dot-P-dot) and his mixtape Will.I.E.: The Example, I actually had the privilege of chatting back and forth with A.P. himself. In that conversation, I was informed by the New Jersey native that Jersey is a hotbed of MCs starving for their own outlet; outlets aside from those found in neighboring New York, where it’s hard for New Jersey MCs to get noticed.
…I hope New Jersey creates those outlets soon, because it seems A.P. wasn’t kidding about the caliber of MC found in his city. A.P.’s realness is what shot him to the top of my favorite new school MC’s list. But this OTHER cat I’m about to introduce— Honor’s English by name— makes my list for one reason: he’s the first MC to ever intimidate me. Yeah, I said it. INTIMIDATE. As in, make me lose my appetite for writing rhymes. …Writing PERIOD. Which is why I’m just now getting to this review after some months away from The Kool Kids Table.
English’s mixtape— nah, ‘mixtape’ is beneath this. His PROJECT. His ALBUM. His SOUND GALLERY is called State of the Art. And when I tell you there’s so much lyrical prowess in it that I can’t wrap my mind around it all, that’s exactly what I mean; I learned my lesson trying to break down Raekwon’s “Unexpected Victory”, one must know one’s limitations.
The first song I heard from the album was The Name Is… And this is how I knew it was gonna be a problem: he made a video that actually posted the words to the song. You don’t do that unless the words are something impressive to see. All you have to do is watch until 0:43, when the video displays: ‘iMac’, ‘IMAX’, and ‘I mack shit’ while he vocalizes all three at once.
Exactly. It’s where poetry and rap reach an impasse. Dude is rapping using three homophones/heterographs AND three entendres at the same damn time. (Sorry for using the cliché, I’ve been looking at this Miami Heat Meme for days now, it’s stuck in my head)
I also love this song/video because of what Honors declares he’s bringing to the game:
Here to be the freshest and take it back to the essence/
They say the game is like Geico, against anything that’s Progressive/
But I’ma bring a message with the vocals in my song/
While I’m moving units like I’m towing on a mobile home/
Bow… Bringing substance? On my good side then. But on top of the substance, Honors brings style in equal capacity. Which is what I keep telling positive/conscious rappers: don’t think you can get away with sucking just because you bring a message. Tell the world what you need to tell it while showing the world why you’re the messenger and not someone else.
On that note— the ‘world’, that is— I wanna talk about the track Burn from this awesome project. It also comes with a video that simply depicts planet Earth and some of the lyrics to the song. …And maybe a little fire here and there, or some city lights, I dunno. What’s more important than the musical part of the video, at least to me, is the intro to the video, where Honors explains the creative process behind the video. I love how he describes the beat, produced by Needlz (who we’ll say more about later) as the sound of a “dead planet”. …One of my ultimate pet peeves is MCs who don’t understand that music speaks a language before you ever open your mouth to drop a lyric. The type cats that take an instrumental meant for a song about relationships and kick rhymes about slangin’ rocks. Honors proves himself to not be one of those type cats on this track. He goes on to say the following:
[I’m] basically painting this picture of how stuff is kinda f#cked up and people just let it ride… And you can paint it and make it accurate so people are like “Oh, this is cool”, but at the end I’m kinda like saying, “Soo… let’s fix this sh!t”.
…Okay, not that I’m a Communist, but did I tell ya’ll before that I’m a big fan of Karl Marx? Can I quote something from Karl Marx right quick? Kthanx.
“Hitherto philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
The Brotha Honors is saying the same thing here. This is the type of MC I’ve been looking for since I first knew about the Civil Rights movement. The MC that realizes that entertainment doesn’t have to be a waste of time. That something meaningful and concrete can be brought into existence through a well-placed word.
Diary of my life on the track…/
But what I started writing started writing back/
And talkin bout my pops and my moms and my block and them bombs/
Sometimes I wonder who sane, Barack or Saddam/
…(((O_o))) That last line, right??? But I’m gonna be smart about it and keep moving, because the song gets nothing but more ill as it progresses. We’ll be here all year til December 21st…
Now, let’s talk hip hop tradition for a second. A DJ and an MC. Remember that? Nowadays, they kinda function as two separate entities; no real chemistry, no comradery, no relationship. But here, again, Honors English represents an exception to the status quo. His producer, Needlz, has worked side-by-side with Honors to create this project. How do I know? Because the second verse of the song Second Chances is all about it. It turns out the name Needlz comes from Needlz’s having to battle cancer and chemotherapy in the course of making the project.
He quit DJ’ing the top of his junior year/
Tired of playing them songs that’s popular on the air/
You can do better he used to say to the mirror/
You fresh, you can be next year’s DJ Premier/
But one day the doc saw a growth on his throat/
Damn wish the cancer just stayed in horoscope/
Tears falling, pulse skipping, heart broke/
Music is the magician helped him fix them off notes/
Plan A uh work out 24 shifts/
Plan B uh see he ain’t know how to quit/
Plan C, cut out everything counterfeit/
If that don’t work there’s 23 more alphabets, live/
How would you feel, his Mamas preparing his every meal/
See Love is the Achilles whenever we need to heal/
And after 6 months it’s only a scar left/
He feeds his faith his fear starve to death/
Yep yep yea, he’s at the height of his career/
Always ‘member to leap and the net shall appear/
He overcame chemo, hero/
20 milli sold grammy and if you ain’t know/
That’s how he got the name/
That’s powerful, right? You haven’t heard powerful until you hear the lyrics and the instrumental working together, accompanied by the harmonies of Karina Pasian. If you’re not a bath salt zombie, trust me, it will move you.
And now, for my favorite joint… Anybody that knows me knows I’m a fool bout some martial arts; been honing my Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition game all datgom summer (holla at me if you want some, EarlGreySummers on Xbox LIVE if I can still afford it). Anyway, Crazay is a HARD track with a DOPE video. When I say dope, I mean you gotta have a certain level of appreciation for… freakin LIFE to really appreciate this video. Dude’s out in the woods on some sensei ish with some martial arts students in training, teaching them how to throw their shurikens right. And how, when they’re advanced enough, they won’t NEED to throw shurikens; they’ll be able to throw CHI, SON!! My dude is levitating and EVERYTHING in this video. He’s even rocking the Akuma beads, and ya’ll know how much I love Akuma! #NOHOMO
…Is that hashtag banned? I don’t keep up with political correctness and such.
But seriously, this video is awesome. What makes it truly awesome is the attention to the nature settings. Little things like the way the snowfall is captured. My favorite scene is where Honors E. is lifting water from a stream, and water falls from his hand, and the shape of the falling water becomes identical to the shape of his hanging beads. That’s GENIUS on the part of the director. And it’s so appropriate, considering the lyricism contributed to the track by Honors. Peep these closing lines:
Who the best shit in rap? Respect it/
I’m not to be left out like an emergency exit/
Ay, I’m on some next shit…/
Dude makes my job SO easy.
Speaking of easy, lemme tell ya how I found out about Honors English. I’m a fan of Lupe Fiasco, right? So I added Lupe on Facebook. And one day, Lupe sends a mass message: check out this new song he’s featured on called “Flyin’ High”. Off the bat, I know Lupe’s not gonna do a track with just anybody. Just like RZA’s not gonna lay down production for and recommend just anybody (A.P.). So I check the track out… and Honors is going toe-to-toe with Lupe! Who goes toe-to-toe with Lupe?! Click the link above and see for yourself, I’m trying to wrap this thing up 😉
If you can’t tell by the lyricism, the videos, or the instrumentals… like I’m tryna tell ya, leave them bath salts alone. Honors English is on a level that you don’t see every day in hip hop. His wordplay is vicious, his chemistry with his producer is outstanding, his messages are vital, his delivery… man, his delivery is ANYTHING you could ask for. I didn’t stress that enough in this review; not enough MCs know what it is to say something in such a way that makes sense for the words you’ve selected. Honors’ delivery changes on the spot according to what he needs to sound like to get his point across. Crazy thing though, I hear the consistency of the New Jersey accent that I hear also in A.P., which is cool. Somebody needs to get a legitimate radio station up there in New Jersey to put these brothas on blast so they don’t slip beneath the radar. “Will.I.E.: The Example” is a classic and State of the Art is a freakin’ miracle. Keep that hard work coming fellas!!