Seattle-born, Portland-based Othello is the musical child of A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots and Talib Kweli. He combines positive lyrics with jazzy, sometimes live beats to create music that references the classic late-90s Rawkus days while trying to find its own niche. “Live at the Assembly Line” is his second album, following up on last year’s “Classic.”
Production is handled by L Mind, Stro and Mr. Jay of the Procussions, and D-Minor and M-Phazes of Wax Reform. Some of the beats are programmed, but a lot of them feature live instruments by Othello’s band the Black Notes. The live music is the best aspect of “Alive at the Assembly Line.” I’m a drummer, and hearing live drums on a track sounds amazing. They are warm, funky, and miles better than the cold, trebly synth beats too many producers are rocking these days.
I have two issues with this disc. One is that while I like how the music was recorded, I don’t actually like the music itself. It’s too jammy, jazzy, and neo-soul for my taste. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, but definitely not my cup of tea. The other issue I have is that while I appreciate Othello’s positive, conscious lyrics, his rapid-fire flow makes it difficult to understand what he was saying, and what I did understand didn’t blow me away. “We all face rough times ahead/Steady being pushed until we find the ledge/Step back and smooth it out,” he rhymes on “Smooth It Out,” and it sounds like the same message I’ve heard 100 times from 100 other “conscious” rappers. Don’t get me wrong, he is nice on the mic, but his mellow, upbeat flow just didn’t move me.
I’m happy that there are artists like Othello creating interesting and positive hip hop music. He is a talented MC with a nice sound that should appeal to fans of golden age, jazzy hip hop. However, while I’m glad “Alive at the Assembly Line” exists, and while I can appreciate it on an intellectual level, I don’t actually enjoy listening to it. Keep doing what you do, Othello, but forgive me if I take a pass.