Goosebumps. Hairs standing on end. Momentary losing yourself in a track with a stinkface. That’s what music is capable of producing within me and all those things happened when I first heard Tanya Morgan’s Intermission feat. Peter Hadar from their album Brooklynati. That might seem overzealous in the way of a reaction but I love Ronnie Laws and the original so the flip stirred something in my soul (and coincidentally, the soul in that sample). Upon hearing about Rubber Souls, I was anticipating similar chemical imbalances in my system. After all, Brooklynati was a stellar performance from Brooklyn’s Don Will and Von Pea and it was only natural to expect even better.
While the goosebumps and screwed up expressions weren’t in full effect on Rubber Souls, my reactions were replaced with intent listening and basking in the soulful moments of the LP. Brooklynati, to me at least, was very much a “greyhound out of the gates” and I loved that approach as that was during my hip hop genesis, but Tanya Morgan’s Rubber Souls came with something different – refined and mature.
“For Real” opens the album and acts as a charming homage to Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2 intro with Von Pea also giving a nod to Dilla with “I usually rock around 92 BPMs” (from We Be Dem). The track lives up to its title as both Von Pea and Don Will keep things in perspective; Don in the outro asking “you ever wake up and wonder what it’s worth at all?”, a poignant and existential question felt by many in the rap game. “The Day I” sees the pair embark on their respective journeys down memory lane, remembering the days when they made important decisions.
For Don, the moment he first played his music to his mother was when he decided to get focused. Almost immediately, his question at the end of the first track was answered by the second. The soft and cloudy melodic backdrop accentuated proceedings thanks to the production of 6th Sense.
But despite the refined nature of the LP, the tracks are not consequentially quiet storm fodder for late rainy nights. Tracks like “Never Too Much” have a Nicolay-esque feel, featuring the talents of Nitty Scott, MC and I felt myself bumping along in my chair. 6th Sense delves into an expansive palette for the beats on Rubber Souls; evident during tracks like “Pick It Up” with its chaotic drumming, intergalactic clavinet funk and cosmic guitar solos as well as the classical cadence on “The Day I”. Where the album really excels, sonically, is the detailed care taken in refining the sound honed on Tanya Morgan’s previous releases.
Von Pea had been in charge of the production on those records, but allowing 6th Sense to hold the reins is an evolutionary move for the duo. Production-wise, a compositionally diverse mix is exemplified by the drumming on tracks like “All Em” (opened with the classic Electric Relaxation line “I like ’em brown, yellow, Puerto Rican and Haitian”), stippled with reggae snare fills, the hi-hat variations on “More” with added space SFX and more of those crazy live-sounding drums on “Worldmade”.
The Roots’ Undun was lauded by many for its ability to hide in the shadows of genre-definers. It had styles upon styles upon styles (Phife again, there) but nothing that could be quantified in one word and that was one of the main things I loved about it. Rubber Souls has elements of that within, thanks to 6th’s attention to detail and blurring any lines that had been drawn before. However, the main praise should go to the group themselves. Having downsized from a trio in 2011 (when Ilyas left the group), it’s been four years since their last release and without their effort and hard work to get this joint out, it might not have seen the light of day.
I’m eternally grateful that it has. Rubber Souls doesn’t just cater to one type of listener as each track has its own unique place on the musical spectrum. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the album title is only a letter away from the Beatles’ 1963 album placed #5 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. Either that’s a good omen or just good intentions. I’d like to think the former.