Wordsmith: The Revolution Begins with a Takeover Vol. 1
Local free verse, free jazz, and not-quite-free folk
Local MC Wordsmith-Anthony F. Parker Jr. on the dotted line-has one of those Catch-22 voices. It's a supple midrange, never climbing into a squeaky high that sounds weird in rap or plummeting into the bass where every line feels like it should be a threat. Wordsmith's delivery is agile and lithe, dancing nimbly atop a percolating brass and drums jam ("Hip-Hop in the Headlines") or easing into a strings and basic beat of a downtempo moody thriller ("Grudge of a Madman"). This voice complements a variety of settings, meters, and attitudes stirred up by the 11 producers handling the 20 tracks on this mixtape-a free download available at Wordsmith's web page or Hiphopdx.com. Wordsmith steps into each of these tracks like a method actor, massaging his flow to match the music: The up-in-the-club lively and casual Wordsmith in Lucki Handz's bubbly "Ultimate Celebration" becomes the laid-back and breathy Wordsmith in Strada's murky "Big Boy Romp" in the very next track.
It's an impressive chameleon act, and Revolution Begins is probably the sort of display that other MCs can listen to and dissect the finer points of rhyme schemes and breath control throughout. As an identifiable sound, though, Wordsmith can be a bit puzzling: Hip-hop, even just in Baltimore, is a business of personality cults, and it's hard to promote a man of many hats in a world that only wants a terse marketing tag line.
And while that probably spells a career in the commercially desolate underground for Wordsmith, it does turn out some sparkling music. Like all mixtapes, Revolution Begins is hit and miss, but when it lands a punch you feel it. Producer Capish threads together a sample of platform-shoes soul-funk with a skittish beat and head-bobbing bass thud for the spleen and ideal of "Introduction to the Nu Revolution." One Condition delivers a slab of Blackalicious-positive G-funk for "What Should We Do With It," over which Wordsmith and RhymeZwell trade impish hot-potato verses. And "Mrs. Musica" turns a bedroom-soul sample into an after-party rallying cry.
The main problem, though, is that most of these lively songs appear at the mixtape's back end, where Wordsmith and guests dabble in the sort of silly and fun storytelling about having good times and girls you expect from Atmosphere. Which is all fine and even dandy, except you have certain expectations from anything that proclaims that the revolution beings with a takeover. Wordsmith does deliver some fine politically minded rhymes in the first half, but they don't cling to the ears with the same peanut butter-sticky hooks. The Coup has consistently rocked minds while moving asses, and given Wordsmith's ability to bend his considerable gifts at will, here's to waiting to see what happens when he decides to apply his whip-smart mind to some house-rocking beats. (Bret McCabe) ★