There’s an extensive history of rappers saying, “I only compete with myself,” but when Von Pea says, “We are our competition, so anything goes,” on “More,” the album’s seventh track, he’s changing the nature of the statement. Rather than boasting [alleged] uniqueness and proclaiming their “own lane,” Tanya Morgan makes this statement in a self-deprecating way: they’re not competing because they’re not even in the competition. This may sound pessimistic, but it’s actually liberating. By remaining self-involved and self-contained, indifferent to what is essentially a marketing problem, Tanya Morgan is able to free themselves from anxieties about sounding absolutely original and make whatever art they want. Rubber Souls feels like a product of that liberated mentality. Produced entirely by 6th Sense, the album is characterized by experimentation, humor, pulse and genuine passion for music.
Though it’s only ten songs long Rubber Souls features a variety of sounds that are almost exclusively the product of live instrumentation. On “More,” before Von Pea‘s previously mentioned memorable line, he tells the audience to make our kids learn an instrument so that Tanya Morgan can perform alongside musicians for the album’s 20 year anniversary. It’s a funny statement, and it shows how much the group values live instruments, but it’s a bit bizarre. Given the significance of live instrumentation throughout the album, they could tour with musicians now. In fact, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine them performing smooth songs like “For Real” or “Pick It Up” without musicians. On the former, the percussion and the bass are just as essential as the vocals, and the beat change toward the end of the song wouldn’t be nearly as potent in some random venue’s probably shitty speakers. The prominence of the instrumentals is just that pronounced, that necessary for the album’s soundscape.
The vocals are equally as engaging, but the appeal is more performative than lyrical. Donwill and Von Pea occasionally drop a nice one-liner (like Von Pea saying he has a metro card with $10,000 on “Worldmade”), but the focus seems to be more on being evocative than being impressive, which is paradoxically impressive. For instance, on the lighthearted “Never Too Much” which features Nitty Scott, MC, the lyrics are generally straightforward, but the earnestness of their flows and even just the humor of their deliveries sells the song without a barrage of #bars. Similarly, on “Eulogy” both artists mourn the passage of time and the erosion of relationships, but the power of the song is more tonal than lyrical. Both artists sound impassioned, rapping over the smooth organ like it’s a pulpit at a funeral. That isn’t to say that that Don and Von aren’t lyricists. In fact, they are phenomenal lyricists. They just simply have the acumen to know that words can only do so much. Only the best lyricists graduate to that level.
All in all, Rubber Souls is a solid project. 6th Sense has hinted that there “might” be some samples embedded within the tracks, but for our purposes, we’ll say that this album’s instrumentals are actually one-hundred precent instrumental. At a time when synthetic sounds are ubiquitous, it’s nice to hear an entire project of live instrumentation. Does this mean that Tanya Morgan is retro? Not necessarily. Not only has hip-hop almost always eschewed live instrumentation (sampling dominated hip-hop until fairly recently), but Tanya Morgan hasn’t always had a penchant for live instrumentation. In fact, earlier today they released a song that sampled a rant from a week ago. That’s definitely not retro. Most importantly, they don’t ever make any declarations defining what hip-hop is or isn’t because they don’t have time for marketing or complaining about the market*; they’re just trying to make good music. And they’re succeeding.
*When an artist, in any genre, attempts to define the essence of that genre by complaining about what’s real and what isn’t, the real complaint is about that artist’s sound no longer being commercially viable. #FactsOnly
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