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New words, old beats

Essence explores The Root of It
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  August 31, 2014


Whatever the rap equivalent of “she could sing the phone book and I’d dig it” is, that’s Essence for me.

Her lyrical style, mostly self-exploratory and day-in-the-life, isn’t always to my personal taste, but her delivery is exquisite. On her new mixtape, The Root of It, she lays down nine songs worth of verses on beats either already rhymed over by the likes of Mac Miller and Nicki Minaj, or produced by the likes of Bonobo or John Beats and never previously explored by other MCs.

The results are some of the most fun you’ll have with Essence, even if she’s cold serious through most of the material. She’s just so agile and smooth, a slinky resentment in “Mind Games” (originally “Fantasy” by School Boy Q), a defiant confidence in “Seconds” (produced by Ghostloft), a clipped and burning anger in “Lookin Ass” (that’s Nicki): “Wish I could write a fuckin novel or a thesis ... I’ll always be a better person than a rapper.”

It’s also great to see the inclusion of Renee Coolbrith, a fresh young voice who appears on four tracks for a sung chorus. Her best turn comes in “Clarity,” singing a languid “I haven’t fallen out of love,” but with a lilt that implies “yet.”

The album as a whole isn’t filled with high peaks—no obvious single like the very catchy “An Unseasonable Spring”—but the pieces are consistently interesting and certainly an important addition to Essence’s growing catalog.

The Root of It, Vol. 1 | Released by Essence | with Shane Reis + Don Santos | at Asylum, in Portland | Aug 27 |

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