"Nothing Less" is Incredible
Sometimes an album is so timely and feels so perfect that you just can’t stop listening to it. That’s the case with Nothing Less by Awon & Phoniks. I mean as I’m writing this, the album has been out for months and I’m still listening to it like it just came out. I finish it then play it again and again and again. There are definitely songs that I have to put on repeat a few times before I advance to the next one, but no song needs to be skipped. They are all great, from the lyrics to the topics to the beats. All the elements come together for one of the best soulful, jazzy boom bap Hip-Hop albums this year or any year.
A brief yet very soulful intro places the album in a mellow mood. That mood pretty much holds throughout. The first song introduces another recurring melancholy vibe as Awon raps, “I’ve been struggling to cope with the day to day. Full of hope but can we really pray the pain away?” Simple, poignant lines like these run rampant on Nothing Less. The features are all dope too, with Masta Ace making the first guest appearance.
After the first song with Ace, “Fire in the Streets” follows. It features a wonderful verse from Dephlow dropping empowering lines like “Let it all burn, I don’t share y'all concerns” regarding the January 6th 2021 insurrection. He continues “...F**** facts if the narrative is weak, the spin cycles.” This album is not a celebratory party album. It is often a somber and eye widening response to the world’s ills. This album was created and released during a global pandemic and it feels that way. Although somber at times, it really isn’t a sad album and far from a pity party.
Anti-Lilly, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite voices in Hip-Hop, jumps up on the next track, “Falling”. In between beautifully sung choruses, Awon and Anti-Lilly find beauty in the midst of adversity. They may be falling and things may look grim but you get the sense that as soon as they hit the ground their next move is to get back up.
The title track, “Nothing Less”, is interesting, aspirational, and super jazzy. Awon weaves together references to the streets, reparations, scammers, and more. He is both hopeful and also grounded. He raps, ”Dreaming of a million in a country that don’t want us” and “I never wanted static with the IRS but if you send me any bread, I’m going to cash that check.” Awon has an incredible skill of putting the challenging duality of being human into easily digestible sounds. One can listen to a song like Nothing Less and just enjoy it without thinking. His voice blends so well into the beat that it sounds like another instrument. But, you can also tap into the lyrics and explore all the different concepts he presents.
Before we get to my favorite song on the album, Blu pops up on a track called “Sunshine”. It is wonderful. The beat is just right and Phoniks plays around with taking the drums out to emphasize the lyrics and those drops are perfect. Blu’s verse is darn near perfect too. But, what’s new?
Okay, now my favorite song, “Can’t Fool Me”. I listen to this song and forget about everything else. I mean everything. Nothing matters when this song is on. Worries fade. Time stops. Goosebumps form and with tears forming, I close my eyes. I’m taken up out of my current reality and placed in the clouds somewhere that doesn’t even exist. Yet, it feels so real. It is only natural that Awon’s wife, Tiff the Gift, blesses this track. Her verse and voice adds to the transcendence of this song. To top it off, the hook features vocal samples of Common, F.T. (from Street Smartz) Nas, and Buckshot. It is only right that some of my favorite emcees of all time show up on one of my favorite songs of recent years.
The album is just over halfway finished at this point with four more songs left. Each song matches the quality of the six that precede it. “Golden Era Vandals” features Ill Conscious over the album’s jazziest piano loop. “The Cool Out” is what its title suggests; it is a cool out. Just cool out and listen as Kid Abstrakt and Awan trade verses over a super chill, hopeful beat. “Fatherhood” follows the hopeful feel of ”The Cool Out'' and deals with the aspirations a father has for his kid(s). It is beautiful. The album concludes with “When”. It is the perfect ending to an album that in many ways is a response to society's challenges.
This album could have been an album of escapism but it’s not. Still, one can find respite here. It could have been an angry album. It is not. Although one can hear the simmering of righteous anger. This album could have been just another album, one of many in a hungry emcee’s catalog. It is not. It stands out. It is nothing less than timely, nothing less than brilliant, nothing less than greatness displayed. It is Nothing Less. Pick up The Boom Bap Review Vol. 3: 2021 which features this album review and much more from a spectacular year of Hip-Hop! Order today by clicking here.