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Sankofa - Obese America

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Artist: Sankofa

Album: Obese America

Label: Indie Pennant

Review date: Aug. 22, 2002


Sankofa, a.k.a. Nowhere Man, an every-man substitute school teacher by day (or so I’ve heard), is by night one of those emcees that’s been almost-there for a while now. He’s released a number of under-underground CD-r level recordings in the last years, (and even a few barely-on-the-radar professionally-pressed releases, as a part of White Collar Criminals and the vocal part of SA-2) though none of them have “blown up” in quite the way that Sage Francis’s DIY releases did. He is famous in the internet hip hop community for his remarkable breath control (and for doing a somersault onstage in a battle at Scribble Jam 2001, among other things); however, he has had trouble making the leap from an in-home-studio artist to being hooked up with a label that will give him professional pressing and distribution.

So the question is, will Obese America, Sankofa’s latest montage of a release, be the pole that vaults him into the stratosphere of not-just-cyber stardom? In a word, no: it isn’t polished enough, it isn’t consistent enough; in short, it won’t win Sankofa any new fans, or at least not many. And, like every release I’ve heard from Sankofa, the vocals on OA are mixed far too low, but only on the solo tracks on the disc, which is doubly annoying. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot there worth hearing. For one thing, Sankofa has a vocabulary that would be the envy of most Scrabble champions, and hearing him twist polysyllabic words into careful rhyme schemes is always a pleasure. At his best, Sankofa is a less self-important Aesop Rock, weaving words into riddles that beg the listener to decipher them — songs like “Videodrome” are a perfect example of this (despite the low-level vocals). “LazSyn” is another gem: JON?DOE, Sankofa, Kashal-Tee, and Spon impress over a nicely-laid piano-driven track courtesy of Context (particularly Kashal-Tee, with winners like “And all them commercial rappers / yo, what’s wrong with ‘em / is that you’re supposed to fuck R&B bitches / not do songs with ‘em.” Ha…). Songs like these are easily among the best that boom-bap underground has to offer. “Lep 106,” a remix of the breath-control breath-taker “beatjackolantern2” from the Billy Bossij… disc is another song that suggests the levels to which Sankofa could soar, if given the opportunity — it easily surpasses the stolen-beat original with a hard hitting Leprechaun track. “Wimmera,” produced by Ognihs of the Suspended Animators, offers a (not surprisingly) slower look at Sankofa, which borders on spoken word at times; while it’s almost too atmospherically dark at moments, the song is entirely enjoyable, and the switch to a guitar sample as an outro is sublime.

Unfortunately, not all the tracks are of the level of “LazSyn” or “Wimmera.” Of the 20 songs on the album, far too many fade into the background, entirely forgettable. Sometimes it’s the fault of the beat — “ough’ta graf,” despite its witty title, boasts a beat that’s so repetitive it almost defies description. Other times, such as “beatjackolantern3,” (the beat jacked? Ras Kass' Soul on Ice remix of course, with “boardwork by the legendary Diamond D,” in Sankofa’s words), the fault is entirely that of the guest emcee: iCONtheMicKing comes in after Sankofa sounding like a complete amateur, rather bizarrely unable to regulate his voice at times. Rarely, if ever, is the fault that of Sankofa himself — as an emcee, he seems to have limitless potential. If only someone would give him consistent production, professional recording facilities and pressing, and distribution (ha… Santa, I want a pony), well, he just might make it.

So, in the end the report card reads “needs improvement,” but in the teacher comments section I’d underline “not working to potential,” hoping that someone out there will get the message.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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