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The R.E.B.I.R.T.H.

One Be Lo

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Album Review

Michigan's One Be Lo has always prided himself on his work ethic, his ability to get his music out to his fans with or without the backing of a bigger label. For 2005's S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., the rapper was signed to the venerable Fat Beats, but for the full-length follow-up, R.E.B.I.R.T.H., Lo turned back to his own Subterraneous Records. He also looked outside the Subterraneous crew for his production, culling beats from West Coasters like Vitamin D and Jake One, as well as the Molemen's Memo and Texture from the Labteks. Unfortunately, the beats on R.E.B.I.R.T.H. are sometimes lacking, the soul samples too short, the loops too derivative, which has the tendency to make the tracks blend into one another. The production, under the direction of One Be Lo, assuredly, also relies far too much on film dialogue samples to propel and guide it. More than half the songs on the album include this added dialogue, which, though it is appropriate contextually, goes on for much too long, filling in the spaces where the MC might have had a guest add a verse instead. In fact, that's one of the most noticeable things about R.E.B.I.R.T.H.: it's all about One Be Lo. Besides a couple of instrumentalists (who turn the otherwise powerful "Gray" into a smooth jazz number) and a vocalist (Marvin Scruggs on "Keep It Rollin'"), the record depends solely on one man to keep it going. While this sometimes means the verses can be short, it doesn't mean they're lacking in quality, or even that they're particularly repetitive. There are the usual boastful rhymes, but they're done well, and more importantly, balanced with other topics, including race ("War," "Gray," "Don't Sleep" — which samples the famous line from Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind"), Michigan's failing economy ("Born & Raised"), problems of the urban poor ("The G Gap"), the current state of the world ("Headlines," with its kind of Encino-Man-meets-Marvin Gaye approach), and mortality ("Hip-Hop Heaven"). It is this last song that best shows off the rapper's intelligence and skills. One Be Lo subtly and cleverly uses allusions to life and death throughout the song, which tells of a typical, productive day in his home studio ("I'm feeling so alive," "I'm dead tired"). But the genius is in how he plays with the hook. "I finished another record, I'm in hip-hop heaven" he ends his first verse, contrasting that later with "Local rapper One Be Lo, age 30, found dead/I'm in hip-hop heaven," the last line of the track. With a less careful, purposeful MC, this could be corny, but Lo is smart and talented enough with his words to prevent his message from seeming forced or overly sentimental, and this trend is seen throughout the entirety of R.E.B.I.R.T.H., making it both an effective and affective album without sacrificing any of its grit.

Biography

Born: Pontiac, MI

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '00s

Deep-thinking Pontiac, MI-based MC Nashid Sulaiman (born Raland Scruggs, he converted to Islam during a prison stay for armed robbery) was first known on-stage as OneManArmy and then, eventually, One Be Lo. As OneManArmy, he was one-half of Binary Star, a duo that released the under-recognized Waterworld album in 1999. (Confusingly enough, the album was tweaked, retitled Masters of the Universe, and picked up for wider distribution in 2000.) The first One Be Lo solo album, Project F.E.T.U.S., surfaced...
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