Keeping with the tradition started with last year's "Speed Reviews Songs For..." post, DAR head honcho True God has been courteous enough to actually give an in-depth review of Death of the King. It's honest, and that's all I want from every reviewer, friend or not. Thankfully, he doesn't just say "OMFG THIS IS THE BEST ALBUM EVAAARRRR" just because he's family, either. Throughout the review, I'll add in notes when needed to (hopefully) expand on the review.
Review after the jump. I'll try to be mostly quiet, as it's a doozy of a review (in a good way).
Disclaimer: Before I go into this review, I will explain why I am the one reviewing this album. Speed has been a part of TEAMDAR since 2011, and he has vastly improved as an artist since then (Speed's note: this can't be disputed; from #RR to DOTK, there is a marked improvement in focus, lyricism, production, not focusing on random women, etc.). I wanted to give the realest and most honest review from a fan and fellow artist who doesn't just write off indie music, and will listen and dissect as well. So, without further adieu...
Speed has been working with his brand of Lo-Fi Hip Hop for years now, and he tried a different approach with "Death Of The King", by making his music in a slightly Hi-Fi sound with more precise mixing and mastering (Speed's note: which allows the album to land somewhere in what I like to call "mid-fi," as it's not exactly completely lo-fi, but not exactly completely hi-fi either. It's reflective of my journey as well). The intro, "Redemption's Reprise," starts off with audio of Speed's son Jovanni and Jovanni's mother. This leads to Speed spitting over a piano and string driven boom-bap beat talking about his journey to getting his life back in order. It's a solid opening track and the audio of his family just drives the point home more. Speed also allows his shit-talking to take over near the end--which is always a bit exaggerated in my honest opinion, but it works--but you can feel his plight.
The second song of the album, "Come and Get It" features DC native Dugee (F.) Buller. "Come and Get It" is definitely a song to bump in the car with heavy bass. Both Speed and Dugee come with solid verses and the hook goes hard, though I'd say the hook would be better if it was doubled/dubbed, it still flows. Once we arrive to track three, "Money Where Yo Mouth Is," the feel is obviously understood, as Speed goes in to talk about social issues and a call to action by all the folks who are talking about making a change. The beat for this particular track is really one of Speed's best and it stands as one of my favorite songs on this album. To keep up with the story that "MWYMI" paints, Speed comes right back with "Religious Politics (Losing Faith In Humanity)", which alludes to Speed being fed up with society. Some of his lines especially "where's your messiah...NOW?" are meant to set a point. It's in-your-face against the bullshit and dispels some of the biggest religious theories (Speed's note: while I am religious to a degree, and believe in God, I know that some people take it to an extreme. Those are some of the people I'm "reaching out" to on Religious Politics).
The creme de la creme of this album in my opinion starts at "500 Days of Summer (Losing Faith in Self)" where Speed follows up the story arc by talking to himself despite the issues the community faces. The melody and the beat carry the song, despite a few weak lines in the 2nd verse (Speed's note: for more on the awkward 2nd verse, check out the Rap.Genius annotations for the song), the song definitely makes a statement. "The Mental Breakdown (Interlude)" is admittedly one of my least favorite songs mainly due to the vocals being doubled, but lyrically it's Speed most-aggressive moment. Witnessing some of Speed's lowest moments as his brother and friend, I know that he was really going through some things at the time. My only issue with this particular song is that it drags on a bit at the end and should have probably ended at the two-minute mark (Speed's note: he's probably referring to the skit between myself and my conscience. It was a bit misplaced, but in the grand scheme, it fits. I do agree that it ran long as all hell, though).
After the mental breakdown occurs, Speed looks into the mirror and tries to start the trek back to normality (whatever that is) with "Cleanse (Tormented Soul)", and he puts his soul on the line with this song. He allows you to see that he's imperfect and despite wanting to help this world, he has to work on self first to be a better him. This narrative continues with the "Do Better Remix" featuring yours truly--2nd verse, represent yo!--and it really paints Speed as an underdog who is on the come up. I'm partial to my verse on this song of course because of how descriptive the lyrics are, but Speed has his back against the wall and a challenge to finally get his shit together. And despite the rhetoric of Speed saying he WILL get his shit together, there's always the uncertainty as a listener who's followed his first few projects, as well as the rarely mentioned Daemons (Speed's note: it's rarely mentioned for a reason: I can admit that it sucked. Logic behind it was sound, but the execution was...turrible) and the first TEAMDAR mixtape The End Is Coming. After "Do Better Remix", the question is, where does Speed go?
"Dreaming (The Breakthrough)" is what follows, as Speed spits over a darker beat, and mentions some of his early experiences. This, of course, might beg the question "when will Speed move on beyond the past completely?" One could argue that it's impossible to move from the past completely, but I appreciate the lack of MPJ references on the album and on "Dreaming (The Breakthrough)" as well (Speed's note: I think everyone here can appreciate my lack of MPJ references throughout this album; that was eight years ago at this point--even though there was a reference to the song "Truthful Revelations..." from #RR). It's a solid song.
Once we get to "Death of The King," the title track, we reach an anthem of sorts for Speed. Speed's verses on here tend to drift at times, but he creates a solid song with a nice hook and the beat is amazing and resounding. "Thanatos (Stories Through Music)" features some of Speed's best verses and is the marker that the story is almost over. He's turning to music to release his demons and hoping that his demons being released will lead to his personal life becoming better. Lyrically, Speed opens his soul on this song, as he does for most of the album, and as the outro, "K.eep I.ntegrity, N.ever G.uises" closes out with a smooth moody flip that allows Speed to just spit some more of his best bars here. It's interesting that Speed saved some of his best bars for the end of the album, but it also reflects that his mind has gained clarity as the narrative of the album comes to a close. After his first 2 albums took criticism for being extremely no-fi, inaudible, and his bars were seen as mumbled (Speed's note: I've even said this myself looking back, so I totally get the criticisms), Speed really worked to create his best album thus far with the beats, concepts, story and lyrics combining for a great marriage.
While I wouldn't consider this album a downright classic, I will definitely crown it as one of the better albums in 2014. Lyrically, it features Speed at his clearest, his strongest, his weakest, and his most confused even. Below are my 5 personal favorites and the strongest tracks on the album.
1. Thanatos (Stories Through Music)
2. Do Better Remix
3. Cleanse (Tormented Soul)
4. 500 Days of Summer (Losing Faith In Self)
5. Money Where Yo' Mouth Is
Be sure to support Speed and the whole TEAMDAR (Speed's note: and help me support local charity efforts) by checking this album out and purchasing it on iTunes, Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify (above), wherever digital music can be found.