L*Roneous – Roller Coaster EP (2010)

Stream: L*Roneous “I Never” (from The Roller Coaster EP, available as a free download)

L’Roneous’ 1998 album Imaginarium boasts mesmerizing samples, drums programmed so perfectly that they sound like breakbeats, and a lyrical style that resides at the midpoint between Hieroglyphics and Project Blowed. Songs like “L’Chemy” and “Implosion” give off a vibe similar to Souls Of Mischief “Never No More” or Aceyalone’s “The Walls and The Windows,” in which the eerie solemnity of the music casts the vocalist as a priestly figure dispensing poetic bits of obscure wisdom. This works well on Imaginarium but what the listener gains in awed reverence comes at the expense of accessibility and impact.

As good as it is, Imaginarium is a little  heavy on mystique and apparent mysticism; it doesn’t really bump and L*Roneous doesn’t really rip it in the traditional sense. ((This does not mean that I do not recommend this album, only that its appeal is limited to a much smaller fraction of listeners than L*Roneous’s skill level can potentially attract.))  Think of it as Gang Starr’s Step In The Arena with every instance of levity, whimsy, realism, and endearing sloppiness excised. L*Roneous’s latest recording, Roller Coaster, is a different beast however. ((Props to Grandgood for alerting me to the fact that L*Roneous is still recording music.))

The EP, true to its title, sees the Bay Area emcee tackling a variety of topics, experimenting with more engaging vocal styles, and rocking over backing tracks that range from gloomy to upbeat, some of which are every bit as punchy and catchy as the ones on Imaginarium. Though he is still recognizably himself on record, his new approach allows him to tap into a wider range of emotions and ideas, which he is able to present in a more outwardly confident manner than on previous recordings. “Estaba Nada” for example, is a meditation on street life that is enlivened by L*Roneous’s forceful but unforced delivery. He flows against the hard drums without being overpowered, relating rhymes that stick to the topic and are neither dumbed down nor unnecessarily dense.

L*Roneous’s rhymes display the kind of insight and maturity best cultivated through rich experience, and this in turn makes his rhymes more enjoyable. His voice projects beautifully over  “I Remember,” a happy, rousing nostalgic joint that wisely avoids saccharine sentiment in favor of lively narrative. Even on cuts that are designed to showcase his technical virtuosity, his lyrics are flavored with imaginative metaphors and a dizzying array of allusions that reflect committed craftsmanship. On “Loungin'” his flow hugs the difficult beat so tightly you’ll think he’ll lose his grip at any second, but he remains focused, spitting ceaseless wordplay in a manner reminiscent of Common’s verses on “Resurrection.”

L*Roneous’s performance is so consistent that certain tracks are weighed down by production that does not live up to his vocals. “Testimony” in particular plods along for what seems like an eternity; “I Get A Rush” is not quite as soporific but fails to bring the explosive energy suggested by its title.  The uncredited guest vocalists add little to the EP; the singer on “S Of L” is more distracting than uplifting, and the several rapped cameos are unexciting at best. The most successful songs on Roller Coaster strike a balance between L*Roneous’s artsy ((I am not using “artsy’ in the pejorative sense here.)) tendencies and his desire to record songs with broader appeal. The title track and the too brief “Take The Time” are logical descendants of his older style, while “I Never,” the EP’s crown jewel, is a perfectly executed ode to restlessness and paranoia and the EP’s clearest proof of artistic growth. — Thun

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