Review: Evidence Plays To His Strengths On Weather Or Not

19-03-2019 22:03

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Note: My music reviews will always be “late.” It is my belief that albums should be listened to in different moods, settings, and after extended breaks, all while conditioning yourself to accept what you were given as opposed to what you wanted. Only then can you give a legitimate and honest critique of the material.

When Evidence released his second solo album Cats & Dogs in 2011, I remember Hip Hop blogs blowing up because the album was such a quantum leap from the humble beginnings on his Weatherman LP just four years prior. While both are strong records, Cats & Dogs did away with a lot of the bells and whistles that felt like afterthoughts on his debut and instead opted to incorporate similar ideas in smarter ways, while trimming down the guest list and making better use of its guest emcees. While Evidence kept busy with Dilated Peoples and Step Brothers, truthfully, by the start of 2018, I was itching for another solo effort.

When talk started swirling about a new album, Evidence stated Weather Or Not would kind of exist as the closing act in his weather-focused trilogy, with the goal of incorporating all of the sounds and styles he’s touched on since he made his mark as a solo artist in 2007. This on its own was enough to get me salivating, but when “Throw It All Away” came out in April 2017, it stopped me dead in my tracks. Even though the song was released eight months before the album, it still managed to hold strong, standing toe-to-toe with some of the best songs on this record, of which there are plenty.

In retrospect, “Throw It All Away” is such an interesting song to use as the first single, because I think it manages to represent a lot of what this album has to offer in a very succinct way, and its placement on the album’s tracklist exemplifies the dichotomy that is present throughout most of the album. Whereas Cats & Dogs felt very larger-than-life thanks to its production and guest list, Weather Or Not feels much darker by comparison, as the instrumentals are more somber, with the producers incorporating a lot of subtle string and piano chords throughout the album.

“It’s the ignorance that causes all the bliss in my surroundings. ‘Cause dealing with reality’s like drawing out your boundaries.” – Evidence on “Throw It All Away”

This is why “Throw It All Away” is such a great lead-single, in my opinion, because it takes this somber soundscape and presents it in a way that feels easily digestible. The track has a strong hook, Ev’s flow on the song feels really comfortable and familiar for long-time listeners, and his bars are laced with arrogance and bravado, even as they are subtly under-cut by what sounds to me like a deep-seated uncertainty. It’s straddling both sides of the fence, and when put next to the opening track, “The Factory,” its placement on the album couldn’t be more perfect.

Because “The Factory,” for all intense and purposes, is a banger. The drums are dry and straight-forward, the instrumental is laced with some eerie keys and sample loops, and as the song progresses, Evidence’s flow gets considerably more nimble and free-flowing, which is a far cry from the Slow Flow persona he’s held onto since Dilated Peoples broke on the scene. This is something that becomes more apparent deeper in the tracklist, but what I mean to say is, by placing “The Factory” and “Throw It All Away” next to each other, Evidence managed to present both sides of the record early on, which immediately makes the transitional moments more digestible.

“Things I never thought about. Tryna be elusive, in the process get forgot about.” – Evidence on “Runners”

This may sound like a non-issue, but it’s incredibly important, because from start to finish, on Weather Or Not, Evidence is constantly straddling the fence, leaning to one side for a song, only to shift his body weight on the next. At certain points, like the second single “Jim Dean” or the title song, he gives listeners a new backpacker anthem, and others, like “Raindrops” or “Love Is A Funny Thing,” he slows things down and gets contemplative. What’s impressive to me, though, is how effortlessly he manages to switch gears from one song to the next, while still maintaining a cohesive listening experience.

Because if we’re being honest, a song like “What I Need” shouldn’t be able to come before a track like “To Make A Long Story Longer.” As Evidence kicks off the final leg of the tracklist, “What I Need” is a drowsy banger that feels very meat-and-potatoes, as the instrumental relies almost exclusively on this bright synth lead and these dusty drum loops. There’s this gloomy, nocturnal intensity that keeps the song engaging despite it appearing unexceptional on the surface. Conversely, “To Make A Long Story Longer” is a storytelling cut, with a Samiyam instrumental that sounds heavily influenced by DJ Premier’s beat for “Code Of The Streets.” They’re two drastically different sound palates, yet they’re placed back-to-back, and it actually works.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I think it’s important to stress because, when you look at each individual component, Weather Or Not is not some boundary-pushing entry in the Hip Hop canon, and I don’t think Evidence intends it to be. However, it provides a listening experience that a lot of Hip Hop albums have been unable to do for the better part of a decade, which is provide long-time Hip Hop fans with something that feels familiar without feeling stale; an album that has both versatility and cohesion, which I truthfully think was the biggest shortfall of his last album.

“I make a beat, grab a mic, and spit acidity. From Venice Beach until I split to Venice, Italy.” – Evidence on “Bad Publicity”

Having said that, Weather Or Not still has its flaws, even if they’re minor, and most of them have little to do with what Evidence brings to the table. After the one-two punch at the start of the record, listeners are hit with “Powdered Cocaine,” which contains a stand-out instrumental thanks in part to the loop of Slug harmonizing in the background. Unfortunately, while I know this has become a fan-favorite since the album’s release, I think the song is pulled down by Catero’s vocals on the hook, which are a little too airy and reserved for my liking.

Thankfully, Catero redeems himself later in the tracklist on “Moving Too Fast,” but while the track acts as a nice bridge between “Weather Or Not” and “Runners,” I honestly felt like it was a waste of a perfectly good instrumental. There are these thunderous piano chords, which are complemented nicely by the smattering of raindrops heard in the background, but Evidence doesn’t do anything worthwhile to flesh out the cut, and it ends up feeling more like a forgettable motif than something truly impactful. If executed properly, it could have been a nice sister song to “Raindrops.”

“See the pyramids or see the prison. Keys open doors, but the doors are off the hinges.” – Evidence on “Raindrops”

Then there are the two posse cuts that pop up in the third leg of the album: “Sell Me This Pen” and “Love Is A Funny Thing.” The former features guest verses from The Alchemist and Mach-Hommy, while the latter has guest appearances from Styles P and Rapsody, with Khrysis on the hook. “Sell Me This Pen” as a whole feels like kind of like a misstep. Like “Moving Too Fast,” I thought the instrumental here was really effective at setting a mood, as it’s probably the creepiest beat on the record, but the three emcees don’t come together to do anything all that interesting.

Instead, they opt to just have three verses back-to-back, with no hook and no real structure. As “Runners” proved earlier in the tracklist, this isn’t necessarily an issue, but unfortunately, while Evidence’s verse on this cut might be one of his best on the album, Mach-Hommy’s verse feels really out-of-place next to Alchemist and Ev, and once his verse ends, the song just awkwardly fades out in what is arguably the most uninspired and lazy transitional moment on the entire record, bar none.

“Love Is A Funny Thing” isn’t nearly as frustrating, as I think Evidence and Styles P have a lot more chemistry than I initially expected going in, and Khrysis’ vocals are a true show-stopper over the gorgeous twinkling piano loop that really propels the song forward. However, like Mach-Hommy on the previous cut, I don’t think Rapsody really managed to keep up with her sparring partners on here. Her verse is still in line with the themes of fake friends amidst newfound celebrity, but her performance feels too stiff and rigid, and her constant name-dropping reminds me too much of a Game verse.

“Bigger picture: if I rhyme, it’s just coincidence. These are God’s words given to my brain on top of instruments.” – Evidence on “Sell Me This Pen”

Other than that, though, there’s very little on Weather Or Not that truly bothered me. Because even when it feels like we’re recycling ideas–like the DJ Premier-assisted cut “10,000 Hours”–I think this album, more than most in recent memory, is one of those rare instances where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Not because of theme, not because of the way in which Evidence does or doesn’t push the envelope, but just in the way the album comes together to form something truly engaging, fun, and memorable.

And even if you went the first 15 songs not finding anything worthwhile, the album’s closer, “By My Side Too,” will no doubt leave a lasting impression on you. In retrospect, this song has become one of the saddest tracks on any record I own. When I first heard Ev detail Wendy’s cancer treatment on this cut, it chilled me to my core, but since her passing last April, I’ve found it hard to make it through the entire song without fighting back tears. Because while his lyrics are blunt and direct, they still feel classy and understated, as it never feels like he’s romanticizing the situation.

Closing Thoughts: I’ve found myself in a weird place where I feel a little bad for enjoying this album as much as I do, simply because the record oftentimes is kind of meat-and-potatoes. Still, I think it’s important to note that there aren’t many Hip Hop albums being made like this anymore, at least not at this level with this level of quality, and the small areas of growth do make a large difference because I think there are a lot of listeners, up until this point, who might have looked at Evidence as a one-trick pony. Not only does Weather Or Not exemplify his songwriting prowess, it also exemplifies his versatility and his ability to craft a well-rounded album.

Favorite Songs: “Throw It All Away,” “Jim Dean,” “Weather Or Not,” “Runners,” & “To Make A Long Story Longer”

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