TheBREAX’s debut album led Rawkus Records (their admittedly self-interested label) to declare them one of the most important new hip hop acts of our time. While the trio, which hails from Baltimore (DJ Beleaf), San Diego (Mic B), and Azerbaijad (Ruslan), established their credentials on their first record, the sophomore effort is intentionally more mainstream, with more hooks and bangers. But going “overground” hasn’t ruined this unique crew—it’s simply made them more accessible. Lyrically, they’re still about honesty and realness—eschewing gangsta posing or bling bling bling in favor of themes of unity, civil rights, and, of course, religion. Usually anything overtly Christian is a big turn-off for me, but theBREAX never get preachy ,and they’ve got the chops to back up their product.
Eye Am Productions (behind Jay-Z’s favorite remix of his own album, “Eye Am Gangster”) provides fantastic beats here—as good as anything on a major label with millions of dollars behind it. Other behind-the-boards contributors include Rocwilder and theBREAX’s own DJ Beleaf (who makes great use of a “Summertime” sample). As a result, the music is versatile. Whether it’s a Timbaland/Neptunes sound-a-like (“theBREAX Is Everywhere”) or something crunkier (“Get Ignorant”), Ruslan and crew prove themselves in every genre. “Wanna Love,” their foray into RandB, has a great electronica hook—like if Beck made real hip hop. I’m not a huge fan of rap love songs, but this one is pretty good, largely because of the music.
If “selling out” means doing what everyone else is doing, only better, then it’s a welcome development for these indie rappers.