Lawrence, MA’s Statik Selektah has released his eighth album, “8”, and with it, continues his proven process of bringing together disparate artists under his umbrella for a project of all exclusives. Unlike the crop of compilations issued in recent years as albums overseen by a DJ (such as DJ Khaled, DJ Whoo Kid, et. al.), Statik takes a cue from DJ Clue’s playbook: He produces, deejays, and enlists emcees of varying levels of familiarity for his own albums. What’s more is how Statik has been able to match his choice of emcees over his sample-based productions, sounds that range from street-level to playful to wistful. He’s clearly a student of ’90s hip-hop production: Soulful vocal samples, hard-hitting boom-bap drums or synth drums; and obscure instrumental loops. And while the idea of ’90s production is dated and redundant to some, I would counter that the assessment is only true if the rapper or producer is using it as a crutch to compensate for whatever they may lack musically. That isn’t the case with Statik. Consistent head-nodding production and the selection of emcees he’s pulled makes “8” an album for listeners who like densely-layered verses over classic sounds.
The roster on “8” varies lyrically, but most of their names ring out and they brought their best over Stat’s production. The roster includes emcees I expected to be present (Termanology, Chris Rivers, Action Bronson, and Raekwon) and emcees who I didn’t expect to see here at all (2 Chainz, Juelz Santana, Wale, and Wiz Khalifa). The album’s intro is a sequel to “Harley’s Blues” from Stat’s 2015 album “Lucky 7“, complete with a sample of his unborn daughter’s heartbeat. The first actual song on the album is “Man of the Hour” featuring 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa. It’s braggadocio rhyming, but both rappers meld their respective styles well with the jazz-soul beat. “Put Jewels On It” is straight-up boom-bap and features Run the Jewels. The appearance of the gun-and-fist gesturing duo is the biggest surprise on “8” and it’s rare that they drop bars outside of El Producto’s futuristic urban production. RTJ spit their usual trash-talking bravado with brutal quotables from El-P (“What a odd duck/I don’t bow to Zod or no man, what/Roll me like you POTUS in an ocean made of Klan nut”) and a tongue-twisting verse from Killer Mike:
Through a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness verse, Action Bronson emits his customary non-sequitur rhymes on “Watching Myself”. But the following track gave me my next surprise on “8”: DMV rapper Wale practices a faster flow on the gospel organ-sampling “Get Down” and delivers one of his more livelier verses that I’ve heard from him in years. West meets East on “Ain’t a Damn Thing Change” featuring Oakland’s G-Eazy and Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$. The former has that relaxed West Coast flow while Joey’s focused delivery is packed with internal rhymes, wordplay, and clever lines (“They just want the Magnum open, I just want the magnum opus”). Stat’s jazzy boom-bap sound continues on “But You Don’t Hear Me Tho” which features The L.O.X. along with Mtume on the hook. Over vinyl record pops & crackles, scratched-in vocal samples, repeated time signatures, and a jazzy piano loop, Stat tips his hat to DJ Premier’s style. From the nostalgic tone of the lyrics, the Yonkers trio show their love for hip-hop without a willingness to compromise it:
Deep bass, sampled choir notes, and hard drums comprise the quasi-title track, “No. 8” (featuring Westside Gunn, Conway, and Termanology). This is one of those street-level beats I mentioned earlier, complete with street narratives from all three emcees. The two brothers, Westside Gunn and Conway, hold their own, but Termanology has the most intensity and the most honed skill behind his verse. Though Stat and the Boot Camp Clik are under the same label, the track “Go Gettas” (featuring Wais P, Sean Price, and Tek from Smif-N-Wessun) sounds like it could have just as easily been included on an album from the BCC. The dusty basement drums are the standout on the musical end, just as the late Sean Price’s verse was the standout on the lyrical end. Those same drums are put through a lo-fi distortion on “Shakem Up”, as is the wailing sample that comprises the musical flesh of the latter song. It features B-Real from Cypress Hill and Everlast of La Coka Nostra. The two seminal emcees prove they still can rock a mic with verses that respectively interpolate flows from Biggie and Slick Rick. The track closes out at 2:27 and left this listener salivating for more.
Stat seems musically ambitious on the lengthier tracks. “What Can We Do (Parts 1 & 2)” is over six minutes long and switches up to a different beat than what it started out with halfway through. Featuring Anoyd, CRIMEAPPLE, Avenue, Nick Grant and Millyz, the track is rounded out by Chris Rivers with a show-stealing verse among the six emcees. The closing track(s), “All Said & Done/(JFK’s 8 Ball Outro)”, follows a near-identical format. It features Juelz Santana (another surprise) on the first half of the song, and then the second half is sealed with a verse from Boston-based rapper JFK. Stat also steps out of his comfort zone to allow The Alchemist to snag a co-production credit on “Disrespekt”, featuring late Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy. No Malice also makes an appearance on the shortest track, “Pull the Curtain Back”, and shows that Stat pulls his album recruits from all areas of the hip-hop spectrum, even Christian rappers (if not for Stat, I’d have never heard of Lecrae).
On the whole, “8” has a musical consistency that I found to my liking. Statik Selektah’s soulful boom-bap, be it his breakbeat drum samples or the loops he painstakingly mines for, has a tendency for attracting talent, even posthumous ones. DJ Khaled is the only contemporary I can compare him to who has a similar approach to compilation albums. Khaled may be more widely successful with his, but he often uses the same rappers for his projects and they often gravitate on an R&B shift in their songs with him. Plus, his releases contain multiple producers on each track to reflect his budget, giving them the poppy/nightclub vibe one has come to expect from Khaled. Stat, however, managed to recruit some of Khaled’s mainstays for “8” and was behind the boards for virtually the whole production. Also, no emcee makes appears more than once, giving the album more exclusivity and an admirable lack of dull repetition. His label may be named “ShowOff”, but that’s what Stat does: Show off talent, his own and those he works with.