Continuing with The Justus League theme, I decided to bring us back to the early days of said collective by reviewing National Anthem, by The Away Team, a duo consisting of rapper Sean Boog (formerly known as Defcon) and, the man who needs no introduction on this blog, Khrysis, who handles all of the production.
Upon listening to National Anthem, I was most interested in determining the rapping ability of Sean Boog, as I already knew going in that the album would be chock-full of bangers with Khrysis on the boards. While Boog is not on the same level of a Skyzoo or Chaundon (or even a Joe Scudda), he possesses a good voice and a solid flow which makes any track he raps over very listenable. There aren't many guest appearances on this album (of the 15 tracks, only four of them contain feature artists), so, obviously, that draws the focus on to Sean Boog even more. Because he is not necessarily a mind-blowing lyricist, though, you won't see me posting many of his lines. Instead, I will critique his approach.
You will see that this is a very backloaded album, meaning that all of the best tracks appear on the second half of the project. While that isn't the best case scenario (why can't the entire record just be good, right?), I'd rather that be the situation than all of the good tracks coming in the first half. That way, the album goes out with a bang.
1. The Competition
As I said, most of the good cuts on National Anthem come later on, and "The Competition" provides ample evidence to support that notion. The beat sounds very "video-gamish," and it kind of drowns out Sean Boog's voice. Not a great start.
2. Likka Hi (Last Call)
Now this is hot. Khrysis lays down a banger with a "classic" feel to it, and Sean Boog absolutely rips the hook, simple as it is. If you assumed the track was about alcohol, you assumed correctly, so while the concept is a bit played out, the sick beat makes this worth listening to.
3. The Shining
This track is pretty nice, too. It has a very laid-back vibe and clearly befits Boog's style. He sounds extremely comfortable over the very smooth Khrysis production, proclaiming he and Khrysis to be "the new hip-hop for the future, y'all." Can't really argue with that.
4. Come On Down
I'm not too crazy about this beat, but Smif-N-Wessun's feature on the track makes "Come On Down" noteworthy. While this may not necessarily sound like a production that Smif-N-Wessun would normally rap over, they do it well here, severely outshining Sean Boog and making the listener almost forget about the lackluster beat. Almost.
5. The Blah Blah
I liked this track until I got to the hook, which is seriously Sean Boog just saying "blah blah blah blah blah." The beat is nice and the Boog's verses are solid, which gives this some replay value, but I mean, for real?
6. Fuck You
This is basically just a diss to all of the girls who have done Sean Boog wrong. While I don't mind the concept, it just isn't very good. The beat is pretty flat.
7. Let Off a Round
This sounds a lot like DJ Premier's "Put Up Or Shut Up" production for Guru on Gang Starr's The Ownerz album, except, plain and simply, it stinks. I love Khrysis, but he has a bad habit of making some of his beats sound like they belong on an old Nintendo game. This is unquestionably the worst track on National Anthem.
8. Make It Hot
Phonte and Joe Scudda are featured on this track, which isn't half-bad. The beat is pretty catchy, and both guest artists drop nice verses. This is where the album takes a dramatic turn for the best.
9. The End Of The Day
While the vocal sample may become a bit annoying, the bassline and snare that Khrysis lays out is just sick. Much like on "The Shining," Sean Boog sounds very natural here, as he tries to console his girl that their relationship is all good. Very nice cut.
Oh HELL yes. The second this track started, I knew I was in for a treat. The production is extremely simple, but it is ridiculously soulful and hypnotizing. Once again, Boog sounds at home on the beat, rapping: "Shell-shocked MCs run around helpless, you played yourself if you say you ain't felt this." This is definitely one of National Anthem's best songs.
Ever hear a beat that sounds absolutely flawless in all but one area, and for that one area that doesn't, you picture it sounding a certain way and wish you could tell the producer of the beat to change it up so it sounds 100% perfect? That's how I felt when I heard "One-N-Only," a solid track that could have been elite if Khrysis just altered one little section of the production. Anyway, this is another one of Boog's odes to his girl, like on "The End Of The Day."
12. Always Be Around
This cut is categorically ill. Khrysis' beat is crazy, and Sean Boog lets off some steam as he vents about his father who was never there for him growing up. The chemistry between Khrysis and Boog on this track is unbelievably good, as the beat impeccably fits the mood. It sounds a bit like "The Shining," but much better.
13. On The Line
Dope. Dope. DOPE. Not only is this far and away the best song on National Anthem, but it is one of the best beats Khrysis has ever laid out. Joe Scudda, Rapper Big Pooh, and Chaundon all guest star and drop verses, and, as you might expect, I am entirely partial to Chaundon, who spits: "Each day I'm plottin' a scheme, for unstoppable C.R.E.A.M., it's the American dream." He also raps the hook. The Aretha Franklin sample is sick, the drums bang, and each artist kills his verse. What an effing cut.
This is the first of two bonus tracks, and it's sick. I love the way Khrysis flips the sample (and, as usual, his drums knock), and Sean Boog kills it: "This is it, we can sue you coward asses, devour rap kids, sweet and sour patch kids." Definitely a top five track on National Anthem.
15. Lights Out
While I don't like "Lights Out" as much as "Caution," it's still pretty solid. The beat consists of cymbals and a high-pitched vocal sample throughout, and Sean Boog comes through with one of his better lyrical performance on the album: "Sean Boogie y'all, semi-proper, rap monster, respectful, stand-up dude, with bad posture." He also spits: "This game's full of twins with identical rhymes."
Taking into consideration the fact that this was Khrysis' first major project and that Sean Boog was brand new to the rap game, you have to concede that National Anthem was a solid effort. While it isn't spectacular, as there are clearly some bumps in the road, you have to take the good with the bad an realize that this is a pretty solid debut.
I really admire Sean Boog for rapping alone on 11 of the 15 tracks, but at the same time, I would have liked to see a couple of more guest appearances along the way (maybe some more Chaundon or a L.E.G.A.C.Y. sighting?). I generally do not like too many feature artists on an album, as I like to hear the main artist do his thing, but here, I think some more verses from fellow Justus League members would have been appropriate.
As far as Boog's rapping ability goes, he's solid. He is not spectacular and is probably the weakest of The Justus League rappers, but that is not really a criticism at all, because each and every one of the members of that group can rip anything to shreds, as evidenced by all of my prior reviews of Justus League projects (and there will be more to come). What I like most about Sean Boog is his voice and mic presence. He proved on National Anthem that he can hold his own on a full album without the listener tiring of him, and that is a huge selling point. He also displayed that he can make his way through an LP without much help, as, once again, the guest artists are limited here.
Again, National Anthem is very backloaded. As you can tell from the review, most of my favorite tracks came toward the end of the project. Don't take the cons of this album the wrong way, though, as National Anthem will get significant rotation on my music player from here on out (this was actually the first time I listened to the entire album). It managed to spawn one of my favorite Khrysis joints, "On The Line," and several other bangers that I will be sure to bump in my ride over the next couple of weeks.
The final verdict? Pick this up. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. On The Line
2. Always Be Around
5. The Shining
Let Off a Round