I'll be honest: I don't know too much about Rashad & Confidence other than the fact that they are a rapper/producer duo, Rashad being the rapper from New York and Confidence being the producer from Boston.
I also know that they released an album entitled The Element of Surprise to critical acclaim in 2011. It was one of those projects that garnered absolutely no mainstream attention but managed to make its way on to a few blogs where it was heralded as one of the best LPs of the year.
The Element of Surprise is a new-age album with an old-school formula, as Confidence's production is of the boom-bap variety that relies heavily on samples and Rashad comes with no gimmicks as an MC.
The duo formed when Rashad hit Confidence up on MySpace and asked if he could buy a beat. When Confidence gave some of Rashad's stuff on his own MySpace page a listen, he decided to do an entire full-length project with him.
Thus, The Element of Surprise was born, and as I'm sure you can tell, the album cover pays homage to Lord Finesse and Mike Smooth's The Funky Technician. Cool.
Because I have already provided you with all of the relevant information that I really know about these two, let's jump right into the review.
Exactly what it sounds like, which sucks because I would have liked to have heard what Confidence could have done with that sample playing in the background.
2. Brand New
I believe this was the lead single for The Element of Surprise, but in all honesty, do albums like this really even have "singles?" Anyway, this sounds pretty freaking good, containing a soulful, introspective beat by Confidence that Rashad immediately flashes his MC ability on. You can already see the potential in these two from the first song, and that obviously bodes well for the rest of the project.
3. The City
It definitely sounds like Confidence put some kind of filter over the sample (and maybe even the snare drum), and it gives the song a nice, old-school feel. Also, man; Rashad is an awesome lyricist.
What you'll notice about The Element of Surprise is how seamlessly the tracks transition into one another, always an important quality on an album. "Understand" is very similar to the first two records on the project, as Confidence uses the same DJ Premier-like chopping formula and Rashad continues to rip his beats up, giving credence to his "I'm thinking of the perfect lines until my dome is empty" statement on this cut. These two work really well together.
5. Rumors of War
This is decent, but it doesn't hit as effectively as the first three songs. Confidence tries to do too much with the instrumental at times, throwing in some unnecessary horns and vocals that really don't fit with the sample. Rashad still holds his own, though, so that's good.
6. Days of My Youth
Once again, this track is adequate and has a nice atmosphere, but I'm still waiting for these dudes to hit that next level.
The quite before the storm, perhaps?
8. Pen On Display
Yep; that's exactly what that interlude was. This freaking knocks. Confidence puts together his most confrontational production thus far and Rashad absolutely tears it to shreds. This is precisely what hip-hop should sound like today. Hey Kendrick Lamar, Drake and the rest of you pop artists who think you are actually making good hip-hop: listen to this and take notes.
This is awesome as well. Confidence uses the all-too-common "Nautilus" sample for "Shining" but integrates it so gracefully that you'll find yourself hypnotized rather than irked, and Rashad appropriately tones down his tenacity to match the subdued mood of the beat. It's songs like this that confirm hip-hop is still alive and well.
10. Pass Me By
Confidence utilizes a sample from The Moments for this track, and while it is very simple, consisting of a loop and some filtering, it's really freaking good. Here, Rashad raps about all of the girls he has let pass him by over the years and why he never made a move when he had the chance. Cliché, yes, but still effective, nonetheless.
12. They Keep Asking Me
I feel like Confidence listened to DJ Premier beats non-stop for one week straight before crafting this instrumental. Obviously, that means his production is fantastic on this, and as per usual, Rashad buries the beat. I really, really like the vocal samples on the hook, too. Thankfully, that last interlude didn't kill any of this album's momentum.
13. Let Me Explain
These past five songs have been absolute fire. "Let Me Explain" continues the album's second-half surge, as Rashad spits about how fame can destroy a person's life over yet another winner of a Confidence instrumental.
14. All Year Round
Confidence takes the same Persuaders sample that was used on Styles P's "How We Live" and does incredible things with it. This song is just terrific. Confidence's chops are on point, and Rashad's raps maintain the level of excellence that they have displayed throughout The Element of Surprise. Every time you think this album has reached its peak, a better track surfaces. Unreal.
15. The Break Up Song
Rashad & Confidence saved the best for last. After all of that heat, Confidence laces his best beat on the project here, and Rashad raps prodigiously about a girl that is driving him out of his mind. Too many times in hip-hop, love songs end up sounding really cheesy, but this one is far from the sort. Each of Rashad's three verses are nothing short of sublime, from his vocabulary to his irrepressible flow, and Confidence's instrumental just bangs. What a way to end a truly spectacular album.
In case you didn't notice, I think The Element of Surprise is an outstanding effort by two virtual unknowns. Rashad is an extraordinarily talented MC, and Confidence has the makings of becoming one of the best producers in the game. The two complement each other extremely well, making this album a thoroughly enjoyable listen all the way through.
Not only was The Element of Surprise incredibly consistent, but there was not one bad song on the whole project. Every record is entertaining in its own right, even if the best tracks on the LP are far superior to the rest. Rashad & Confidence manage to keep the listener engaged throughout with absolutely no missteps at all, something even the greatest artists of all-time have difficulty doing.
Perhaps what's most impressive about The Element of Surprise is how the duo covers so many different topics, and yet, the records all fit together like a puzzle. There isn't a single cut on this album that I would say doesn't belong, and credit has to be evenly distributed to both parties involved for that. Confidence's beats are simply awesome, and Rashad does exactly what a good MC is supposed to do.
If you haven't listened to this project yet (and I'm going to guess that most of you haven't), you need to drop everything you are doing and listen to it now. I can almost guarantee that you be satisfied with the product. It really is great.
I feel like if The Element of Surprise were released in the mid 90s instead of 2011, it would be looked at as one of those slept-on gems that was never given its just due when it was released but would be considered a cult classic now.
1. The Break Up Song
2. All Year Round
3. Pen On Display
5. They Keep Asking Me