"Screaming everybody, anybody, nobody funny, and sincerity just made me a whore, I got this feeling you don't love me like I love me, 'cause if you did you'd give me so much more" – Qwel on “Ugly, Hungry Puppy”
That love that he speaks of may be complicated, but it’s got nothing on Qwel, the quick-paced, outspoken, and sharp-tongued Chicago emcee, who along with up-start producer Maker, presents “The Harvest” (Galapagos4 Records), a rare step-back from the typical “money, cash, hoes” themes still running rampant through hip-hop well into the 2000s. Also missing though are the battle raps, gangsterisms, and stagnant R&B choruses, which while often avoided like the plague by most underground acts, are actually sorely missed on “Harvest,” where Qwel’s rapid-fire speed rants, though on-point and actually music in itself, often deliver a message that fails to get across in a jumble of words lost in the translation. Luckily, Maker’s production easily transplants itself into “The Harvest” as a blueprint for solid underground boom-bap beats that could survive on their own merits.
Make no mistakes here, Qwel has the ability to flow over literally anything that Maker throws his way with such precision and accuracy that he often tends to blend right in with the beat. Cymbals, strings, and percussion all squeeze their way into “The ‘IT’ in ‘Keeping IT Real,’” where Qwel dissects the hip-hop mantra of “keeping it real” to discover how it really applies. “A Little Something” shows Qwel shedding a religious angle rapping, "It's best described in my mind as a child when I wake, And just knew that school today would be too much to take, It's sweaty palms prayin' 'Father, please I'd much rather play,' And in that instant of wishery I realize it's Saturday.” The wordplay that Qwel instills on most every track easily proves his abilities as an emcee, though they do tire eventually like too much of a good thing.
Probably his most powerful track, “The Siren of Staten Island” pairs the queen of New York (who he describes as “green with envy,” guess who?) with a political/social track that takes aim at the country that she turns her back on. However, in typical Qwel fashion (at least as far as this album goes), the hook basically consists of him repeating a line from within a verse, which quickly grows both tiresome and boring for the casual listener looking for something to grasp their mind around. At his best, Qwel is a sophisticated version of Eminem (just check his first verse in “Siren of Staten Island” for the remarkably similar sound). At his worst, Qwel is nothing above the average “nerdy” Internet rapper, wowing audiences with flow and control over content and appeal.
The real story of “The Harvest” though is Maker and his ability to create simply fitting hip-hop production that incorporates a variety of elements (everything from percussion to soulful interludes) to create music that speaks to listeners. “End” is more than just an outro, as Maker successfully incorporates a priceless beat that could (listen up, television producers) serve as a quality theme song for someone or some show. “Road Atlas” incorporates a melody familiar to the first few chords of “M*A*S*H,” and “Capathy” mirrors the RZA/Ghostface production of “I Can’t Go To Sleep,” allowing Qwel freelanced exposure to a droned-out climatic sound that forces him to slow his role.
“The Harvest” is a welcomed addition to the “anti-industry club” that openly presents overachieving beats from Maker but could benefit from a slowed-up Qwel. A decent hook (hell, even a hook from Qwel outside of a line transported from an earlier verse) or switch of style for a track or two would surely give this album a much-needed change of pace. The well-tested emcee/producer effect also is in play here as Qwel over Maker, while good for chemistry, creates an album that takes longer to fully-digest and appreciate. Listeners will only be able to tolerate so much of the same formulaic sound until it begins to become tedious. There’s a message in everything that Qwel says; unfortunately, the message often either is trapped in the beat or lodged between two thesauruses that prevent it from becoming clear. Qwel is probably right; people may not love him like he loves himself. Then again, maybe they just have not heard all of what there is to love yet…