There was a time, around the early-to-mid-nineties, when the Wu-Tang Clan seemed to have a stranglehold on the hip-hop market, releasing a new project every six months to a year. This past decade has seen an underground crew, Army of the Pharaohs, be just as prolific, if not more so, than the Wu. The latest release from the AOTP umbrella comes from its newest member, Hartford, Connecticut’s Blacastan. The LP, a collaboration with producer Stu Bangas, has cast the man on the boards as the Watson to Blac’s Holmes, as illustrated in the album’s artwork.
While the New England duo have rightfully equated their partnership to that of modern literature’s most famous detective team, Watson & Holmes does not follow the blueprint of a traditional concept album. In other words, there is no underlying thread, as the title and cover art may lead one to expect, say, in this case, a murder mystery, to tie the LP’s sixteen tracks together. That being said, Stu Bangas has done the next best thing: sprinkled in interludes taken from past adaptations of Sherlock Holmes mysteries over coherent and atmospheric production. Just like the blog’s previously reviewed albums, one of Watson & Holmes’ strengths is its uniform sound, often the result of the album’s beats being handled by one producer.
As far as lyrics go, those familiar with Blacastan’s earlier work would agree that the MC is in rare form on W&H. Starting with the album’s title track, “Holmes” rhymes over “Watson’s” darkly funky production with a hunger only heard in hip-hop’s underground. The track most befitting the duo’s adopted personae may be “Disguise”, where Blac’s lyrical darts, combined with Stu Bangas’ dark, ominous sound could double as a scene in an old Sherlock Holmes flick. On “The Road”, “Holmes” details the plight of the independent artist, from the constant travelling to the difficulty of maintaining even some marginal success to having to rely on merchandise sales. It’s an account of how so many hip-hop artists have to make their living while keeping their integrity intact. Furthermore, Blac goes toe to toe with AOTP and Demigodz cohort Apathy on “Machine”. On one of Watson & Holmes‘ last jewels, “Tormented”, an introspective Blacastan questions the tenets of organized religion and the existence of an afterlife.
In summation, when this LP was first announced, its partnership may have been a little head-scratching, but overall, Blacastan and Stu Bangas bring out the best in each other on Watson & Holmes. With few guest appearances, mostly from AOTP members, “Holmes” is tasked with shouldering the lyrical load. With the help of “Watson’s” sonic bangers, he deftly pulls it off.
Gems: Watson & Holmes, Change, Disguise, The Road ft. Block McCloud, Close Your Eyes ft. DJ Food Stamp, Machine ft. Apathy, Tormented, Throat Chop
If you’d like to hear more of their work, you can check out MC Esoteric’s Machete Mode, produced entirely by Stu Bangas, and Blacastan’s Master Builder Parts 1&2, Blac Sabbath, The Master of Reality and Me Against the Radio. For Blacastan’s other group projects, check out AOTP’s In Death Reborn and the Demigodz’ Killmatic. Support underground, independent hip-hop.