Rough and rugged upbringing in a predominantly urban atmosphere, troubles with the law, and a jail bid have become the stat quo for some of hip-hop’s finest today. The emergence of 50 Cent and his G-Unit label showed us all how an emcee could go from the jailhouse to the penthouse within a span of just several years.
In an era of hip-hop when scars from gun shots are proudly displayed like badges of courage from war comes the modern day emcee who uses these ‘hood tales to construct a career off of being the “hardest” emcee off the block.
One Be Lo (formerly One Man Army of the underground duo sensation Binary Star and now a member of the Subterraneous crew) has had a life that follows a similar format: Grows up in the ghetto, finds himself in jail at a young age, and gets released fresh out of the clink and is thrust into the world of music.
Only here, with One Be Lo’s jail sentence and subsequent release, comes a renewed sense of truth and the birth of S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., his official solo debut album that views an enriched emcee willing to share his mind and world through twisted analogies, hyper extended wordplay, and captivating dramas.
With his absence from the game since the late ‘90s, One Be Lo’s creativity seeps through on “enecS eht no kcaB,” where he treats the low-key harmonic production with: “With the eagle I begin, spread wings, Ride the wind, my story never ends, I probably used a million pens.” Buried amongst the witty incisions of his rhyme scheme comes an ample welcoming “kcab” for the former Binary Star member.
“The Ghetto,” One’s virtual trip through his liquor store-infested neighborhood, tarnished with roaches, rats, shootings, and crime is another in the long line of hip-hop’s reality checks through the “place where the sun doesn’t shine.” And “Oggie” continues the theme as One Be Lo twists his words (and his mind) around the senselessness of death (“The more n----s grim, the more the Grimm Reaper!”).
S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.’s real appeal though is hidden within the consciousness that One Be Lo sprays out venomously throughout the disc. “Sleepwalking” pleads with people who hit the snooze button in the morning and live their lives without any real meaning.
“Can’t Get Enough” preaches about the evils of wanting more wealth than one can handle. “They say money’s the root of all evil, it gotta be wicked, I seen million dollar preachers robbin’ church senior citizens, A lot of cats be buying lottery tickets, Somebody offer you a mill? You probably with it,” he raps and forewarns over a simple drum pattern and fluctuating piano strokes.
The coming-of-age track, “The Future,” One’s tirade against the mainstream media on “Propaganda,” and the conceptual “Evil of Self,” which works well with the assistance of the 7 deadly sins, all demonstrate One Be Lo’s ability to dominate a record with knowledgeable tracks that speak on something other than gun toting and hustling.
At 22 tracks deep (skits included), S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. does run high and dry at times, boasting several tracks (“Rocketship,” “E.T.”) that may appeal to the intergalactic hip-hop fans but otherwise falter as misplaced attempts at catching the backpacking ear. And on a lighter note concerning a fairly serious album, what’s up with all the Glen Close (?) references, One?
Still, with the overwhelming number of rags-to-riches tales floating throughout hip-hop, One Be Lo graciously provides topics outside of the 3 G’s: guns, girls, and gangs. S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. may not prove that One Be Lo has jumped from the jailhouse to the penthouse, but it certainly proves that something does exist between: reality.