While the rest of the music world currently awaits LA based TDE/Interscope rapper Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album this year, It may be easy to neglect the music of long term Underground MC’s like Joe Styles (also from LA). Backed by production from Shinjuku, Tokyo producer Budamunk, “Soul Quest” takes plenty of influence from past Hip Hop albums where rappers would often utilize R&B vocalists or sing their own chorus quite often to the humour of listeners.
Albums like that would also seek to tap into the market that commercially viable hooks had on outlets like radio and music video channels. This does not however correspond to the modern R&B/Rap stylings of artists like Drake and Mack Wilds but instead more towards the direction of albums like Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “The Main Ingredient” and Blu & Exile’s “Below The Heavens”.
The track “Soul Quest” serves as the intro, with Joe singing his heart out, approaching harmony and voice control in an intentionally funny way. Concepts on the song jump between smoking weed, to the appreciation of thick women and while Its content that had been explored minimally on their previous joint effort “From LA to Tokyo” It sets the tone for what is meant to be a very playful audio experience.
There are several points of the EP where external singers (Cora Scott, Botni Applebum, Allison Jones) take reign of the choruses and on songs like “Your Love” the vocals work exceptionally well, on other songs like “Passionate” the chorus does not seem as necessary.
Production influences sound drawn from 3 legendary producers, including Pete Rock, J Dilla and Madlib, all of whom have spawned wide lanes for several Hip Hop and Neo-Soul producers in Japan. Budamunk meshes all 3 into his style, by using e.g. filters that intermittently dive in and out, along with the casual swing on drums.
The lack of variation in drum patterns across the EP might wear some listeners out, but It’s the great sample selection on numerous songs that overshadows this, creating smooth texture to Joe’s verses. Vocal wise, Joe has a clean delivery and flow, while constantly switching between topics in one song. The verses always feel authentic, almost as If he’s freestyling on each song.
All in all, the 15 track EP serves as a feel good body of work before a possible full length LP, but requires listeners to have lack of absolute rigidness, in a similar way one might approach projects like “Fantastic Vol.1". Highlight songs for me included “Celebration”, “Budastyles Part 2”, “Music Is Me” and “Soul Music”.