PRHYME 2 by PRhyme
PRhyme – PRHYME 2
Genre: Hardcore Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Respect My Gun (featuring Roc Marciano),” “Rock It,” “Flirt (featuring 2 Chainz)”
The one down year in hip hop during this decade would unquestionably be 2014. By most accounts, including my own, the best hip hop album of that year was RUN THE JEWELS 2, and it wasn’t even really that close. 2014 FOREST HILLS DRIVE ignited both a meme and made J. Cole a star, but it couldn’t have felt more out of tune with the rap world, which is to say it was . . . not great. Retrospectively ScHoolboy Q’s OXYMORON has aged like a fine wine, YG’s MY KRAZY LIFE feels more now than then like an important document of a rapper on the rise, and early works by artists like Vince Staples and Isaiah Rashad feel and sound like early works by immediately great artists—shouts out to PINATA and CADILLACTICA, both of which should’ve gotten more love in their time. (Coincidentally it’s worth noting that 2014 is the only year of the decade that Kendrick Lamar didn’t release a notable song or album, but we can get into that another time.) But hip hop, a music culture dominated and propelled by the idea of front-running and a monoculture, was seemingly without one. While Run the Jewels, indie artists whose limelight status in both music and rap was suspect, were jewel running in the midst of the hip hop world burning down, just waiting to be rebuilt by mumblecore, King Kendrick, and SoundCloud, another duo of hip hop journeymen released not just their most relevant, but also their best, album in years. I speak, of course, about PRHYME.
It was an odd release for DJ Premier and Royce da 5’9, both of whom had previously hit higher mainstream highs than either El-P or Killer Mike, but both of whom had also been raised in more conventional hip hop circles. As PRhyme (the P is for Premiere, the R is for Royce), they released a self-titled album centered around samples from composter Adrian Younge, and the result was an album that, not unlike RUN THE JEWELS 2, showcased a producer and rapper duo running parallel to each other. Perhaps more than RTJ, simply because of El-P’s dystopian, Four Horsemen beat-making, PRhyme felt like a writer’s album first, and those Younge-sampled beats helped allow the album to exist outside of the conventional sound of the time, simultaneously feeling unique even as the production honored needle scratching, run-it-back ‘90s hip hop. The project seemed to rejuvenate both of them. And while I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the rap world’s acceptance of Younge’s Spaghetti Western showcases and ‘70s psych-soul mix-ups (“JoHn Muir” is the best ScHoolboy Q song on BLANK FACE, and while I might be alone on this, I kinda like the pair of TWELVE REASONS TO DIE LPs he released with Ghostface Killah), DJ Premier’s reinterpretations and sampling connected with Royce da 5’9’s direct lyrical gymnastics in a pretty satisfying, straightforward, and re-energized way.
With their sequel, DJ Premier tagged in composer AntMan Wonder, admitting that he didn’t have enough to continue riding Adrian Younge. Speaking in generals, Wonder’s compositions tend to be more hectic and his approach already comes from a hip hop background, with tracks that frequently come from a genre state of mind. While Younge’s work was atmospheric and could be kept stagnant or amped up to maintain the pacing of a cinematic collage, Wonder’s source material rarely carries with it a sense of mystery, instead at his level best channeling an MF Doom-style cartoonishness through his keyboards and hi-hats, or slowing things down with single trumpet soul interludes. In short, Younge’s work can exist outside of the culture, being tagged in for producers to turn the thrilling mystique of his music into kaleidoscopic and fresh sounding music, while Wonder’s (for better or worse) is already attune to the world of rap.
Like it reads on paper, the setback realities of PRHYME 2’s production leaves the project feeling somewhat stale. Even though Wonder doesn’t offer anything as dynamic as Younge, DJ Premiere frequently fails to elevate his music. The brilliance of the first record was that, even as the hip hop world was rudderless in regards to sound, something that allowed for both PRHYME and RUN THE JEWELS 2 to even exist and thrive, the beats could cut through the noise of both the past and future. While there’s some slick stuff happening on PRHYME 2, it never feels distinguished in anyway. Tracks like “Black History” and “Do Ya Thang” hearken to conscious rap’s more luxurious and thick mid-2000s era, and “Made Men” and “Gotta Love It” hit with that metronome faux-jazz, failing to canvas their audience. Perhaps the best beats on the album are those that don’t work from the jump because they’re just too disconnected from the project, like “Sunflower Seeds” (that bassline is something) or “Era.” There isn’t a lot of consistency happening here, and whether that’s AntMan Wonder’s source material or what Premiere is doing with it, something just never quite connects. For a project that bills itself so prominently for the beats it has, this mess never delivers the goods.
And of course, as PRHYME was a producer and rapper running side-by-side in total acknowledgement of each other, as the production on this sequel begins to wane, so does Royce’s performance, which no longer feels inspired. The guest verses here are plentiful, and for the most part pretty good—shout out to Yelawolf, who I actually think does hard-hitting work on “W.O.W. (With Out Warning)”—but Royce falls into a lot of braggadocious self-hyped rap patterns that feel just as messy as the production. As the duo pay homage to classic acts like A Tribe Called Quest (“Rock It”), LL Cool J (“1 of the Hardest”), and Camp Lo (“Flirt”), among many others, the admiration you have for these two shouting out the past is hindered by how awkward it all feels in the present; had the production attempted to root itself with any stability as a throwback, maybe this would work, but instead it all feels relatively pointless.
In so many ways, that the duo’s original album was successful was systematic of the time it was released just as much as the quality of the album. With a DJ utilizing old school production techniques, a plain-sailing hype rapper, and a composer whose work and sound was largely untethered to rap cliches, the combination was a perfect swan song for the first half of the decade in rap, a trailblazing and unconventional time in the genre’s mainstream rise. Looking back on 2014 and its lack of true star-defined direction, PRHYME, just like OXYMORON, MY CRAZY LIFE, or the scant few pillar releases of the year, succeeded because the monoculture was wavering. PRHYME 2 isn’t being released into a world with that kind of critical anxiety and uncertain structure, and that it feels as flawed as it does only overextends that awkwardness. Were PRhyme really ever that great, or were they simply water in an oasis?
Some of this could have been alleviated. Just compare the run times for both albums: the original was a brisk nine songs at 34 minutes, while for some reason, PRHYME 2 is 17 songs and a dragging 53 minutes. That alone is a good indicator of the album’s inability to hold itself above water for very long. While the “concept” of PRhyme that DJ Premiere explains at the top on “Interlude 1 (Salute)” is great, the execution and decision-making that went into PRHYME 2 by all members is its biggest holdback. Even while the music occasionally slaps, its easily nitpicked, making this album more annoying than it is actually bad. With different source material, a shorter length, and something fresh that can inspire, maybe the duo can return to form for round three to prove whether or not this really works.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend