Chief Kamachi has been grinding on the underground Philly scene for over a decade now, and his experience shines through on Rise and Rhyme, Vol. 1 — a densely lyrical work spoken by someone who made it out of the hoods he now hopes to navigate the listener away from. The latest from the former Army of the Pharaohs member & JuJu Mob leader shows him continuing to juxtapose grim tales of the streets with mystic and abstract imagery to instruct on how to become someone with true knowledge of self. He deals in quick images that seem to pass you by before you can fully digest them, making the rewind button a must, especially on his most potent tracks.
Beat-wise, Rise and Rhyme is full of heavy boom-bap drums and eerie soundscapes that complement Kamachi’s dark yet uplifting verses. “Soul Soldier” and “City Blocks” are adept at carving the perfect mood for the topic at hand. On these tracks, Kamachi tries to navigate the streets for his children and unravels tales of schizophrenia and sexual confusion that ultimately end in despair. He pulls no punches on either, as evidenced on “Soul Soldier”: “I’m a priest, I kill for the righteous at least / You in bed with the Devil, spend a night with the beast / Put a chain on my neck and I’mma bite at the leash / My people fighting for oxygen, you fighting for peace.”
“Get Righteous or Die Tryin,” Rise and Rhyme‘s highlight, strikes a great lyrical balance between his street perspective and knowledge of self-mantra. He exudes both gangsta and conscious rapper with an even hand, highlighting the pitfalls of the ghetto then professing how he personally grew to overcome them. As he mentions early in the track, “Entrepreneur settled in the wrong hood / 24/7 peddling the wrong goods / Just my path, dealing with the nonsense / Don’t wanna be a killer but killing’s on my conscience.” He aptly chronicles the hopelessness of the concrete jungle, and his vivid images help describe just how close he came to falling himself. “Rise and Rhyme” plays like the foil to “Get Righteous or Die Tryin’,” his answer on how to escape the traps of the ‘hood. Instead of outlining its countless dangers, he speaks from a post of greater truth, espousing his method for arriving to a higher consciousness: “I am the product of the families that trap raised / Got knowledge of self during my early rap phase / Still Brand Nubian, divine when the track plays.”
Another standout is “Chuck D,” which is an ode to Public Enemy on all fronts. The heavy break beat, unsettling synth and falling piano line bring a murky urgency to the track, recalling the hard-edged productions of the Bomb Squad. Yet “Chuck D” does not settle for being a track that simply pays homage to the Hip Hop legends. Instead, Kamachi channels Public Enemy’s energy through his own lens, juggling politics, history and violence with effortless intensity. He’s at his most potent here, especially with the bars, “Life, that ain’t something that you wanna risk / I’m back, dressed in all black, why it come to this? / One, two, mic check, Sun Tzu / Runaway slave in the jungle wearing one shoe / I am the body that great leaders can come through / Neck loose from every noose that it hung through / Can’t touch us, bunch of dead Ku Kluxes / Chronic masonic, let’s puff a few dutches.” His rapid succession of obstacles and influences ends as quickly as it starts, dropped by a man who’s clearly studied how to pack a lyrical punch.
Still, Rise and Rhyme isn’t without its misses. For an album that seems to take pride in its uncompromising, underground aesthetic, “Hood Symphony” is an odd attempt to emulate the Lex Luger sound that has recently dominated mainstream street singles. Another key miss is closing track “Last Night in Babylon,” which ends the album on a lackluster note. The beat’s bouncing synth and live drums seem hollow compared to the emotionally rich tracks that populate most of Rise and Rhyme. “Babylon” sounds brash and convoluted, a musical attempt to capture what “Chuck D” accomplishes so beautifully. Opening bars “I went to war with the Christian and Catholic church / Wasted years praying, all I got is a back that hurt” land awkwardly, and much like “Hood Symphony,” Kamachi never seems to find the right lane for his flow, leaving his lyrics to sound mismatched and hurried.
Chief Kamachi has crafted an album that will no doubt please his supporters, but Rise and Rhyme, Vol. 1 isn’t an album for the fair-weather Hip Hop fan. It’s a very specific type of conscious rap, an album that truly finds its feet when each reference is colored in and fully understood. While not every track carries the same focus you’ll find on its highlights, Rise and Rhyme succeeds far more than it fails.
If you’re looking for an immediately palatable rap album, this won’t whet your appetite, but if you like projects that unfold a bit more with each successive listen, Rise and Rhyme will be worth your time.
Get Righteous Or Die Tryin
Rise And Rhyme