March 6, 2003

Test Spin: Sole

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Sole’s fourth album comes with a booklet of typewritten lyrics and notes explaining what each song is about. It’s a good thing too: the rapper’s maniacal flow can be a bit hard to follow, and his abstract lyrics can be nearly impossible to decipher without a cheat sheet. And apparently he knows it, which makes sense considering his self-aware, self-referential aesthetic.

Selling Live Water is Sole’s diary for the world, a glimpse into his thoughts, dreams, and fears. The album’s lyrical themes encompass socio-political commentary, interpersonal relationships, treatises on hip-hop and music critics, and general reflections on the state of the world. Sole’s rapid-fire stream of words is perfectly suited to this confessional style, and he spits out his poetic lyrics with a poignant mixture of aggression and resignation. The glorious title track is an enraged rant against the commercialization of the world, scored by rolling guitar loops and defiantly upbeat keyboards — it’s a transcendent cut, and the album’s defining moment.

Elsewhere, Sole addresses discontentment with the job (“Da Baddest Poet”), Bush’s war on terrorism (“Shoot the Messenger”), and his own shaky career (“The Priziest Horse”). The album’s music, provided by Anticon stalwarts Alias, Jel, and Odd Nosdam, fuses guitar and piano with hard-edged hip-hop beats for a dense, chaotic, soaring sound. Sole himself says he can’t decide if he’s a rapper or a poet; based on this evidence, he’s a little of each, and quite good at both.

Archived article by Ed Howard