Cas Metah & J.Rawls – Criminal Blinded

144

Old school never dies, or at least, that’s how it feels listening to Cas Metah’s newest record, “Criminal Blinded.” The project never wears out its welcome and the chemistry between Hogle and J.Rawls style’s are undeniable. Both artists sound incredibly in-tune and immersed in hip-hop culture and their positive regard of old school makes this project come together like a perfectly molded set of grills. My biggest complaint about the record is just that there isn’t more of it.

Artists: Cas Metah and J.Rawls
Project Name: Criminal Blinded
Release Date: December 15, 2023
Label: POLAR ENTERTAINMENT LLC
Socials: @Real_Cas_Metah @jrawls82

Written by Tony Le Calvez

Old school never dies, or at least, that’s how it feels listening to Cas Metah’s newest record, “Criminal Blinded.” Taylor Hogle, who performs under the moniker Cas Metah, has been steadily releasing hip-hop mixtapes and albums from his home in Columbus, Ohio since 1997, and from the sound of this new record, he hasn’t forgotten his inspirational roots. This new record, “Criminal Blinded,” is a seven-track project created in conjunction with producer and professor, J. Rawls, a legend in the underground hip hop scene, famous for working with the likes of Mos Def and Talib Kweli. His old-school composition style paired with Hogle’s veneration of foundational rap collides into a record that jumps straight out of the 90s’ to tackle 21st century problems.

The opening track, “Total Chaos” is an instant time-warp to a sound that I thought was long gone. The introductory notes of J.Rawls beat are spiced with the same seasonings issued by the likes of J.Dilla and Madlib; it has an old-school flair characterized by these short jazz-pop samples of layered horns and xylophones, that cycle repeatedly like an old reel of tape flipping over on itself. Hogle’s voice comes out clear and meticulous, probably thanks to how high it is in the mix, delivering direct and poignant lines, bragging about his skill and the talent that listeners are about to experience from the rest of the record. Hogle’s lyrics are clear and competent, reminding me of the delivery style of Craig-G; it’s never meandering or waxing poetically in abstract metaphors, it’s to the point and in your face.

I hesitate to throw out so many comparisons to other rappers when talking about “Criminal Blinded” because Hogle and J.Rawls are doing they’re own thing, but this project purposefully gives a lot of the credit of its excellence to other people. In his lyrics, Hogle shouts out Kool G Rap, Stevie Wonder, and Talib Kweli, while J.Rawls invokes Outkast, RZA, and J Dilla very widely throughout the production; the guys know what they’re doing isn’t the most “original” or “new,” though they celebrate that, in the current state of hip hop, this use of an old school sound is unique to the mainstream landscape. What they are doing is combining all of the sounds that inspired them into something that is tributary and functional, and not only that, but they excel at it.

The second and titular track, “Criminal Blinded,” opens with a warm fuzz that only comes from either analog recording or sampling something analog and that warmth sizzles underneath the entire track. Sitting on top of it is a steady layering of what sounds like West-African djembe rhythms and Ghanaian or Nigerian vocals. The musical style works in tandem with how Hogle delivers his lyrics, first denouncing Americans for ignoring atrocities abroad like massacres in Africa, and then evolving that into a critique of American consumerism. Invoking images of Moses and the golden calf, Hogle’s pointed lyricism is similar to Talib Kweli or even Immortal Technique, though not as venomous. This track also employs features by D1 and Rel McCoy who add their own perspectives and stories to the track that flush out Hogle’s slightly on-the-nose criticisms.

The record is chock full of great features like on the following track, “Devotion,” when Napoleon Da Legend, “pops the door off the hinges” spitting the first bars of the song. This track demonstrates just how balanced the teamwork is on this record, whether it’s Napoleon’s relentless bars, J.Rawls throwing in some stellar disc-scratching (can mainstream hip hop bring back disc-scratching please?), or Hogle painting a myriad of lyrical landscapes to meditate on. No one is getting in anyone’s way or hogging any part of the song, it’s all working brilliantly in tandem to elevate each other’s excellence. Hogle delivers my favorite bar here, “my karma credit so great that credit karma use my face when they place ads.”

Track four, “G rap” is a tribute to old school legend, Kool G Rap, with some references that feel pulled right out of the 80s. The sampled ad libs remind me of DJ Drama’s gangsta grillz mixtapes, and Holmskillit’s feature is rapid-fire like a tommy gun. Meanwhile, amid disc-scratching, J.Rawls is throwing Holmskillit’s voice all across the mix, accentuating important words and letting them bounce from left to right across the soundscape like tennis balls. This is the shortest and punchiest track at only two minutes, but I wish it was longer because it goes so hard. It’s amid this short burst that I am able to identify what I like so much about Hogle’s flow. It isn’t necessarily remarkable or stylistically unique, but he makes up for that with his execution; he’s incredibly consistent, precise, expressive, and disciplined.

On the next song, “Golden Arms,” the crew tackles the immigration crisis, race hysteria, and the role police brutality plays in all those issues in the United States. Donte the Gr8 has an especially poignant line comparing the veneration of the MAGA crowd to worshiping American Idol and that the United States has devolved into idolatry in the form of worshiping pop-culture. This is all supported by the beat which invokes or at least emulates Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” with its sluggish accentuation of every third beat and swaying swings cradling its bottom end. Where this song trips a little bit is in Hogle’s verse on the last half of the track. He’s trying to squeeze too many words into a single bar and the rhythm and delivery trips over itself a bit.

And this goes for “Golden Arms” as well as the next track, “Glory,” Hogle’s lyrics are so on the nose, especially regarding his faith, that they get right up to the edge of being corny. Hogle is clearly driven by his faith in a lot of these tracks, and I respect his unapologetic devotion to his faith and its message. In a way it reminds me of how Stevie Wonder (who gets invoked a lot on this project) slips his Christian faith into his own lyrics, I just think a modicum of nuance could make his passion hit even harder and avoid sounding too preachy. Especially with J.Rawls beat working as hard as it does, which loops a hymnal sample and uses sermon samples as ad-libs, listeners don’t need to keep being hit on the head with it, especially since his message isn’t containing anything I can’t already hear every Sunday at West-Coast Methodist.

Fortunately, the crew reels it in on the final track, “Seven Kings” when (what I think) a string of features deliver flows that are rhythmically fractured and lyrically playful. The MCs on this song are toying with the beat, wrapping their words around every staff separating the measures; they stop and go, slow down and speed up, and they compose a cool sort of counter rhythm to the beat that almost begins to feel like poly-rhythms when you consider their voices as percussion instruments. The song and the project ends with a flavorful instrumental outro that features some of my favorite disc-scratching on the entire project as well as a kaleidoscope-like collage of layered samples.

The whole project runs up to about 25 minutes, and my biggest complaint about the record is just that there isn’t more of it. The project never wears out its welcome and the chemistry between Hogle and J.Rawls style’s are undeniable. Both artists sound incredibly in-tune and immersed in hip-hop culture and their positive regard of old school makes this project come together like a perfectly molded set of grills. Hogle and J.Rawls both have extensive separate discographies to explore, but I would love to see these two collaborate on a full-length record.


Follow Cas Metah & J.Rawls:




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *