Champion Sound (Album Reflections)
“Glory” with its rolling snares, cloudy choir esq. vocal samples, and choppy horns opens up the Champion Sounds by Wordsworth & Pearl Gates with confidence and purpose. Based on this song, Champion Sounds is going to be something solid. It is going to say something both musically and lyrically. Wordsworth and Pearl Gates give solid verses with a compelling hook that holds it together. This is a good first song that wastes no time. We are into the album and so far so good.
"Glory" fades. Triumphant yet somber horns play and fade then Pearl Gates welcomes us as a slow-moving burn of a boom bap beat drops. Gates flows effortlessly weaving in and out of braggadocio and jewel swinging: “…teach youngins to show and prove. And tell the old heads the time for growth is overdo.” Spuddy Roots gives us a lovely Champion Sound hook and then Wordsworth comes in and does what he does best. All other rappers beware as he channels the aura of heavyweight champs with lines like “Title contenders and rivals surrender. We drop November. You should hibernate, survive for the winter.” Wordsworth is one of the greatest lyrics of all time. Case in point? Kool G Rap follows Wordsworth and kills it. Yet, Wordworth still has the better verse imo. The fact that Wordsworth has a better verse than a GOAT contender like Kool G Rap speaks volumes. Plus, Pearl Gates holds his own on this song. So, we are two songs in and already something special is happening.
We flow into "Just When You Say" and I can’t help but think of Jay-Z’s first Blueprint album. That album was so dope to me because everybody liked it from kids who like pop music to the underground backpacker who just finished listening to Company Flow. That’s how the beat on this “Just When You Say” track feels. It feels universal. This album is quickly warming up and showing a universal sound. The content on this track is also universal touching on fatherhood and relationships. The adult themes here mixed with the musical landscape give the song a very mature vibe.
Wow. We are only three songs in and already we have something special on our hands. The next song, “Photograph” is somber boom bap at its finest. Then, we slide into “World Apart” where album producer, Quincey Tones, trades in the somber vibe for an aggressive kick-snare-baseline thumping. Minimalistic sampling provides the perfect sound bed for Gates and Wordsworth. Don’t ask me what the hook says. Your guess is as good as mine. Doesn’t matter because it adds to the rawness.
Okay, now it seems as if Quincey Tones tries to take a page from the new drumless formula on “Live on Air.” However, he doesn’t take all the drums out, but rather brings down the kick and snare and with very subtle high hats in the distance. Can’t remember where this sample is from, but you might recognize it. He flips it in a very straightforward way and it works. Now throw in a feature from Rasheed Chappell and we have yet another dope joint.
“Sincerely Yours” brings out vulnerability and I love it. Wordsworth and Gates offer apologetic verses. And remember when we talked about having Jay-Z appeal? Well this song is another great example of that. The vibe is extremely cool. Lyrics are relatable and the beat is undeniably dope whether you like boom bap or not.
Talib Kweli stops by on the next song, “These Days” and I can’t help but think about his hit song “Get By.” Both songs have a very inspirational vibe to them. Talib’s hit anthem is obviously a stand out banger in Hip-hop. However, “These Days” isn’t too far behind. This is a well executed song, from the gospel influenced hook to the lyrics to the lovely way Quincey Tones transitions the song from verse to hook and back to verse. Lovely joint all around.
The next few songs “Rollin,” “Two Sides,” and “Like a Fool” although very different subject matter displayed, all have a very similar laid back feel. One of my favorite lines on the entire album shines through on “Two Sides” where Wordsworth, talking about marital issues, says, “…now we argue about food and shoe space, stuff like who ain’t put the cap on the toothpaste.” If you are married or in a long term relationship then I know you feel this! I sure do. I love it. Real, simple, compelling. Pearl Gates continues on with some honest reflection on “Like a Fool” as he spits a nice, heartfelt verse with some really great wordplay that pulls you in from the first few lines.
“Youlogy” continues the very laid back vibes but with a very interest twist. I’ll just let you give it a listen. Let’s just say, I’m thankful it is only a song.
Ironically, the last song on the album is “First Things First.” If the first 12 songs on the album don’t leave you wanting more, this one will. It is a bit different than what you would expect from an underground, boom bap album, but it is a wonderful surprise. Pearl Gates trades in rapping for singing. He actually sings on a number of tracks on the album. However, he also raps on the songs. Not so much here. With “First Things First” he gives us a very catchy hook and a sing-song verse. It almost sounds like something you would hear in between whoever is the hottest mainstream one hit wonder and whoever is the next one hit wonder. But, the big difference is that this song is not a typical trendy radio friendly single. This song as well as the entire album is something just about anyone can appreciate. And that is the beauty of Champion Sound.
Overall, this is easily one of the best albums of 2019 and I would argue it is the best album from the catalogues of both Wordsworth and Pearl Gates. If you grew up listening to Kurtis Blow and Run DMC you will appreciate “Champion Sounds” Hip-hop authenticity. If you grew up on Rakim, Kool G Rap, and Kane, you will appreciate the superior lyricism. If you came to age with De La Soul, Wu-Tang, and Nas you will appreciate the 90’s boom bap Influence. And if you grew up anytime after that, I think you will appreciate the musicality of this album. The production is cohesive with boom bap drums and dope baselines tying it together. It also features engaging melodies and catchy hooks that opens up the music to a wider audience. Great job fellas. Hope there is a sequel in the mix.