On Boombox, Boston rapper and visual artist Raheem Jamal adopts the introspective storytelling and straightforward rhyming techniques pioneered by East Coast MCs like Rakim and Guru. The result is a very personal and genuine effort that’s a throwback to golden-era hip-hop—without ever sounding like a carbon copy of its progenitors.
Cuts like “High Energy,” an autobiographical tale that’s partially about growing up in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and “When? Part 2,” which is a biting, politically tinged diatribe, hammer this style home. On both tracks Jamal infuses his clear-cut narrative with obscure references and animated imagery, paying heed to his forefathers but deftly pushing the genre forward with his own vision.
Musically, Atlanta-based producer Raydar Ellis provides a backbone of breakbeats and melodic phrases mostly lifted from old-school funk, soul and jazz recordings. Like Jamal, Ellis echoes the methods of time-honored producers such as Madlib and DJ Premier in crafting the album’s tone.
Though it might not shake the foundations of hip-hop, Boombox is a revitalized and much-needed update of a classic sound. Rakim and Guru ought to take note. (Ira Sather-Olson)