Coming from the (extremely) proud line of militant rappers and rap groups, Toronto’s Little Empire is angry, and they want you to know about it. They’ve got plenty to be mad at; social injustice, mother nature’s attacks on humanity, and more social injustice top their list of issues. Over tense, edgy beats, Little Empire approaches their audience with an impressive amount of intensity, attempting to simultaneously educate and convert their listeners.
In itself that approach is laudable. Many are the music critics and media pundits who criticize Hip Hop music for its lack of topical substance. Little Empire will never have this problem. Little Empire jumps headfirst into a type of political protest that many “real” rappers are nervous to even approach. They mourn the inequality of life, protesting that there is “No Country for Us.” Any listener will easily see how earnest they are when they grieve the loss of massive loss of life from the tsunami that hit the coasts of many islands east of Asia two years ago.
The problem isn’t with their militant approach, or the fury with which they approach this. The problem is in their lack of focus, or a clear goal. Too often, they get caught up in lamenting the state of the world, without offering a way to change or cope with it. They have no solution, even in working form, for the problems they address, and instead of being inspirational, they can often times come of whiney on songs like “No Country for Us.”
Even worse, their actual delivery often isn’t very good. First, they often sacrifice rhythm and flow for the sake of cultivating more emotion. This is an aesthetic, no doubt, but its one that doesn’t always work. The production is well suited for this, but many times they are just vocally unpleasant to listen to, grinding at your ears. Also, some of their lyrics are odd. Generally, they are decent lyricists, but when they ask Mother Earth to “calm yourself down” on “Pain is Power,” it only causes the listener to scratch their head.
On the other hand, taken for what it is, it can be a good listen if you’re just mad and have good speakers. The production is cinematic, slightly influenced by Asian music, and very indebted to the RZA. In their best moments, like the Toronto anthem “Diverse City” and the absolutely massive “Triumphant” Little Empire communicates sheer emotion as well as any rap group. The beats are consistently good and induce the mood well, so as background music, “Eye of the Storm” works pretty well.
Though Little Empire definitely won’t blow you away with their lyrics, they do fit the production pretty well. The tense production of “Guerrilla” is only amplified by the panicked delivery Little Empire gives it. They actually function best when not attempting to approach more serious topics: “Up & Down” and “Hands Up” are all the more exciting as a reprieve from their bludgeoning approach to rhyme.
The biggest fault with “Eye of the Storm” is that as rappers the members of Little Empire just aren’t very good. They are actually pretty bad vocalists on the whole, and are barely decent as lyricists. The fact that they harp on serious subjects with such emotion disguises that, despite having a lot to say, they aren’t very good at saying it. “Eye of the Storm” would probably sound better with no vocals at all, and suffers from Little Brother’s unfocused ranting.