Remember a time when albums had a fast side and a slow side?
Rapper Stimulus and producer/drummer Chris "Daddy" Dave (Maxwell, Robert Glasper) bring back the fast side/slow side concept with their mixtape, 3rd 1st Impression. Chris Dave's production is as tight as a Pete Rock snare while Stimulus' flow is controlled and intricate but never "extra." There were no predictable metaphors and similes from him; many times I found myself going "wait, what?" and running it back again to catch the lyric.
As they say in marketing you have to break through the clutter, so Stimulus starts out with "Say My Name," using "S to the T to the I etc...say my name" repeated many times. We then get into the mix starting with "U Don't Want It." When Stimulus says "I'm sonning you so much/you could say that I'm tanning you" it comes off smooth and understated, whereas a lot of other rappers would try to hard with it and sound corny. The "fast side" is very classic '90's pure hip hop, and it shows Stimulus' versatility as a lyricist quite well.
The "smooth side," tailor made for Cuffin' Season, (Google it) isn't the predictable "I'm gonna do (fill in the blank) to you. On "N2U Interview," you notice a shift towards a more trippy, skater feel on both the production and the verses. I love how Chris Dave flips the beat on this one at about 4:50 letting the grungy drums drop out and bringing in a sexy guitar riff that is almost Bhangra, while Stimulus and guest Ruck drone over it "I'm really N2U/Here's my resume/can I get an interview?" It works, and it's a nice setup for "Morning Wood Interview." Mint Condition fans will be hyped to hear lead singer Stokely Williams sing the hook on this one. Dave has Stokley's vocal mixed down so if you didn't read the track list you'd swear he's saying "more than words." Guest Malik Work's compelling baritone rap is a nice contrast to Stokley's beautiful tenor on the hook.
The second pleasant surprise is the appearance of Renee Neufville, formerly of the '90's vocal duo Zhané, with Bilal on the sultry "Full Grown." Thankfully Neufville's crystal clear vocals aren't mixed down, and you get exactly what she means when she takes her time intoning "I wanna know/Is ya full grown?" It appears her voice was also overdubbed for the background vocals, which is almost decadent it sounds so good. Bilal lays down some ambient oh-oh-oh's but sadly nothing more. Stimulus has some angst-ridden verses, wondering if this lady he's with is grounded enough to weather the inevitable storms of relationships.
The highlight of 3rd 1st Impression is "Bad Habitz." I love the clever way samples from Maxwell's "Bad Habits" get reworked into this sexy mid-tempo tale of love and deception. Something as simple as the "I" from "I can't control the feeling" becomes a staccato accent to the layered mid-tempo beat of brushes, rim shots, and snares. The story here seems to be Stimulus just found out his lady is married, "so poof I disappeared like magic/just before his key's in the door/and unlatched it /your marriage is stagnant/I provide passion." The song is Stimulus' way of telling her he's out and reminding her what a good thing she's lost by deceiving him. "Perhaps when this song gets played/you'll understand what happened." I think they could release this one as a single easily. Plus, I dare you to try not to nod your head to it.
Unfortunately, the last three cuts are sort of forgettable. The last track is a hip-hop roll call track, which samples Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love." They stand OK on their own, but I'd have liked to see the smooth storytelling vibe go on a little longer.
3rd 1st Impression gives you the art of storytelling, clean production, just the right amount of guests, a talented lyricist with a strong future, and will left an overall good impression on me.
Stimulus & Chris Dave 3rd 1st Impression [Download]