The New Jersey duo of Upper Echelon consisting of Caliph and Tunde represents “a higher level of awareness in our music and ultimately in our state of mind.” After many individual, independent releases of their own, the two come together in “Tragedy 2 Triumph” to narrate the accounts of two separate lives, two stories, two missions and how they eventually come together to initiate a merging art form.
Upper Echelon shows their many talents with tracks that run the gamut of subject matter both reflective and lighthearted. There is a track for every kind of listener whether it is about continued existence or good-humored amusement. “Tragedy 2 Triumph” exemplifies the profound lyricism and poetry of Caliph and Tunde of UE with their use of words and intelligence to tell a story of their journeys past and present.
Instead of “Tragedy 2 Triumph” should have been called “Burning Star,” a metaphor used continuously throughout the album to instill the positive message to try and reach astronomical heights as epitomized in “Show Me the Way”:
“Life is a beautiful thing or it can be a terrible thing
It’s all about choice
Your perspective on the whole thing
That’s the beautiful thing about being human
A star in the sky doen’s get to decide whether or not it wants to shine, but you do
So what do you choose?
Do you want to be a burning star or a black hole?
The world is a ferocious stream
That’s filled up with lost souls and broken dreams
And few dare to challenge the current
A balance the torrent
Instead most go with the flow… downstream
So those childhood dreams now seem so unattainable
So out of their grasp
That they no longer reach for ’em
That hour has passed
The warrior been turned into a coward at last
And the devil does its victory dance
And the world is once again cheated
And God is defeated
Complacency… that’s the demon in disguise”
Resuming the theme with an upbeat, the positive awareness of survival is also seen in tracks such as the “Look Alive” featuring Kurayjus, to encourage the truth about staying both aware and alert. It features a hype, yet classic rock feel packed full of electric guitars and horns to revert back to an eclectic experience. Heavy drums and guitar are featured in “Morning Glow” as sped up lyricism feeds the amplified energy in the track. Over a simple beat with horns and hard doubled up bass, the struggle to build the impossible into something possible, while looking beyond the misfortunes in “Tragedy” features the singing of Natalie Desir.
The album features many sampled tracks such as a twist to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour” in UE’s “Back in a Year” and modifies the lyrics to a new “World Tour” instead. It describes a year full of defiance while touring the world. While on tour and passing through ATL, Tunde’s clever and humorous approach of beginning a lyrical sequence rather than speaking while leaving a message on a voicemail to an unsuspecting “Bernadette” is imaginative as he says:
“You probably got a man by now I’m sure
But I was still hoping you’d be open to the idea to explore
The idea of me swooping you off the floor
For just one night then I’m back on my tour
I’m staying in room 112 by the pier
Don’t call me back just come right here
I let the front desk give you the clear
If you don’t see me now I’ll be back in a…”
Another sampled amusement is featured in “Heatwave” reminiscent of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas’ 1963 hit “Heat Wave.” With a mixture of old and new school flair with organs in the background, the track embodies the once classic song into a type of hip hop enlightenment to reveal the heat that comes with UE’s progression in music.
UE touches upon highlighted, poignant moments in the album that cover the past and the future including “Things R Changing.” Caliph remembers his mother “Midiah” who has passed and shows how life has transformed into something remarkable with the rise of his music and birth of his son. On the other side of spectrum Caliph dedicates the bonus track “Hey Son” to his child as the legacy of his family lives on through him.
Upper Echelon has successfully embraced the story of “Tragedy 2 Triumph” through the wide array of unmatched tracks and beats as I can honestly say that I cannot compare them to any other artists. With their fresh, new style and lyricism to amaze the masses, the variety of tracks includes insightful, yet witty wordplay, the trials and tribulations of an artist, and audible sounds created from their own brainchild. Their expedition through the album becomes an integration of a known familiar territory for each. With this in mind, the end to numerous tragedies and the beginning of many triumphs for UE has commenced.