Camp Lo Ragtime Hightimes
(Nature Sounds – May 18, 2015)
Review by Brandon Foster
Camp Lo is the only group in hip-hop history to be before and after its time. They were able to bring in a 70s New York City flavor in a 90s hip-hop environment and pull it off effortlessly (and with a touch of OutKast). It took a while to fully absorb just how special their classic debut album Uptown Saturday Night was. Since that 1997 debut, Camp Lo pretty much fell below the radar. Yes, they have had a few releases through the years but they were nowhere near the debut album. However, four years ago, they picked up a little steam. Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba joined forces with legendary hip-hop producer Pete Rock for the 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s mixtape to a lot of fanfare.
Fast forward to present day: Camp Lo teams up with their longtime producer Ski Beatz (Jay-Z “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, Curren$y “Sidewalk Show”, 24 Hour Karate School) for their 5th album Ragtime Hightimes. Even though these three are ultra-familiar with each other, they have found a way to make a completely different sound than what most would be accustomed to. Out of all of their projects, this might be the only one that does not have a strong 70s presence throughout. It’s still there, but it seems like they took their style from the first two albums and hopped in a DeLorean to 2015. On the opening track “Black Jesus”, Suede and Cheeba’s chemistry is stronger than ever. While not as rhythmic or energetic, it is still potent. “Sunglasses” comes up next and now the energy is there. First one was just oiling up the bolts but now, they are in tune. The beat is more in tradition of classic Camp Lo with sultry guitar licks and horns blaring throughout. Definitely something you can iddy bop to.
The flow of the album goes with Suede and Cheeba exchanging bars, then letting the rhyming breathe a little bit with a dedication to the ladies on “Gypsy Notes” featuring Tyler Woods (featured on Murs “Love and Appreciate II” and The Lox’s “Faded) Curiously enough, the album continues with just Suede and Cheeba going bar to bar over short tracks. This style will not be cool to a lot of current music listeners because it is not sticking to the now standard formula of Drake, J. Cole, Rick Ross. No traditional 16 bar (line) verse, hook, repeat on this album. These guys are just rapping. It could be 8 bars and they are out or they made trade 16s. Where they do that at?
We get a major highlight on track number 9 with “Life I Love”. Ski is really finding himself in a groove because he produced a very good amount of Curren$y’s Pilot Talk III and this sounds like something that could have easily made it on that album. The song is simple but sinister. Camp Lo is talking about the life they love that includes wearing ski masks and loaded gloves. It is definitely not the first rap song that makes living a life of crime sound luxurious and give you an eargasm while bopping your head and imagining yourself as a smooth criminal (no Mike Jackson), but damn if it doesn’t do it better than most.
“Bright Lights” has techno and electronica influence dripped all over it, but instead of being danceable, it is just a cool song to have a glass of cognac and smoke a cigar to. The last track “Time” is just glorious. No other way to describe it. It is a perfect round up of the album with a dedication to getting lit, getting women, street tales, with crazy sudden streams of consciousness.
Is this Uptown Saturday Night? No. Hell, there has been no rap album released this year that is as good as that one. But is it good? You bet your ass on that one. It is just two dudes who enjoy rapping. That is better than trying to fish for a hit. Ski Beatz provides a good backdrop for Suede and Cheeba. While not every beat hits and it sounds like he was stuck in between the Camp Lo’s hazy world and Curren$y’s Jet Life theatrics, he still manages to provide great production that pushes Camp Lo forward to do other stuff besides reverting back to the 70s shtick (in no way is that a negative thing). Go out and buy the album!