- reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
The summer season always seems to bring with it an abundance of rap and hip-hop tunes, perhaps due to the fact that it's the ideal party season. Granted, a group like Mars Ill is far from what you might play at a family party, but for a hearty get together of teens and twentysomethings, Raw Material can be an interesting soundtrack. Soul Heir the manCHILD (DJ) and his partner Dust (turntables and production) know what it's like to perform in the underground hip-hop scene. Since joining forces in late 1998, the duo has captivated crowds at more than 100 shows and gained quite a reputation for being able to mix it up on the turntables. They've often been invited to play the dance tent at some of the major music festivals, including Sonshine, Lifefest, Youthfest, and Cornerstone. At last year's Cornerstone, the group's set went over so well that the crowd demanded an encore, which turned into a 45-minute package!
The most appealing element to this project is the emphasis on production quality. The talent and quality of Raw Material matches that of respected secular performers The Roots, Jurassic 5, and Black Eyed Peas. But Mars Ill lives for more than the mainstream world's excesses, as evidenced by their avoidance of Epic Records' courtship. Instead, they signed to Uprok so they could add a deeper message to their already polished sound.
The song "Black Market" perfectly describes that balance. Soul Heir the manCHILD belts out some raps mixed with the gentle scratching of Dust. During the chorus, the duo sings together to create a resounding vocal echo. In this song, Mars Ill addresses the fact that their words are universal and shouldn't be confined to a spiritual bubble. "Compound Fractures," a soulful jazz mix, picks up where "Black Market" leaves off. It encourages listeners, regardless of their faith history, to become broken before God and trust that he'll improve their lives.
The mild bass action mixed with light rapping on "Love's Not" also backs up that deeper point of view. It speaks of how American pop culture tries to fill our lives with so many distractions, but in reality, none of these things have any eternal value. However, note that Soul Heir the manCHILD alludes to sex and drug use as false loves. If taken out of context, some may find his word choice to be offensive.
Mars Ill knows how to have a good time as well. "Rap Fans" and "Sounds of Music" have a sing-along vibe and take a light-hearted approach to the joy of the rap genre and music in general. Both "Sphere of Hip-Hop Part 2" and the original version of the song (also on the album) are the most intense mixes, with a driving synthesizer and turntable scratching that make both versions very catchy. The lack of screaming raps and a wall vibrating bass make these tunes enjoyable listens, even for those who wouldn't consider themselves fans of rap music.
But before running out to buy this disc based on all these strengths, make sure to acknowledge its main shortcoming. The length is a problem—and no, this time it's not one of those 30 minutes or less rip-off discs. Raw Material clocks in at 71.09, which seems incredibly long for a debut album and sounds like a typical duration for a greatest-hits collection. Although that may seem like getting your money's worth, the group is prone to excessive filler, including an introduction track and several interludes, such as "We'll Live Underground," "Send a Man," and (ironically enough) two versions of "Indulgent". The spoken-word segments and instrumental portions could have been left out for a solid, straight-through easy listen. However, the beauty of compact discs is that the listener can skip past such pointless segments, and when it comes party time, program only the full-length songs.