Big Boi’s first solo album Sir Lucious Left Foot was everything a Big Boi solo album should be: funky, stanky. But it lacked a crucial ingredient that has been proven to enhance Big Boi’s flavor: Andre 3000. Zesty…Smooth. It is the unique relationships of their styles, the transition of verses from Big Boi to Andre and Andre to Big Boi that makes Outkast Outkast. They form quite a savory blend, and the same can’t be said for Watch the Throne (two rap kings) or Clipse (two biological brothers) or Blackstar (two philosophers). If there is one blend more potent than Andre 3000 and Big Boi, it would be the partnership of a white rapper and a black rapper. It has happened once before — Moosh and Twist, two young bucks from Philly. And today, as Sam Lachow and Raz release 5 Good Reasons EP, it happens once more.
The first collaboration between the two on YouTube was posted in January 2010, when Lachow shot the music video for Raz’s ‘The Love’. Lachow released his first album Brand New Bike in July 2011 followed by Avenue Music EP in April 2012, with Raz featured on one song in each. Raz has recently put out a couple of music videos, and the Lachow-produced Reasons appears to be his most official release to date. The question is not if this new project will advance their respective rap careers, but if together they are greater than the sum of their parts.
Sooner or later, a rapper is going to say his own name on a track, and the way he says it is an accurate measurement of his persona. For example, Lachow seems most happy when he gets to say his name. He elongates it into a sort of joyous sneer: La-chaaouww! It’s his actual name, but he savors it like its a swear word. Solomon Simone raps under the pseudonym Raz, a word he speaks as if its something sacred. His scratchy voice enunciates the ‘Ra’ and then treats the ‘Z’ as a separate syllable, whispering so that it drifts into the airspace an open-ended ‘S’.
Lachow’s delivery is slick. He has sharpened his flow over the years so that the accents of the words hit the beat at the right moment. He waxes iambic with ease on Reasons, smooth to the point that his words lack weight, so that it’s easier to listen to the rhythm of the words than the words themselves. Raz is the opposite — he digs into his lyrics. He raps with so much emotion that he is wont to veer off-beat and obstruct the flow of the song. His style is almost physical; you feel every drawn breath, and you sense his tongue morph to form the sound of each syllable. The man is raw. He’s not far away from spoken word. Lachow would never do spoken word.
43 seconds into ‘The Introduction’, at the beginning of his verse, Raz looses this low carnal growl from deep in his stomach, and you can tell that shit is about to go down. He goes on to reflect on the themes that have shaped his life: violence, drug dealing, poverty, gentrification. “My life is more epic than my rapping is/ with all this shit that’s happenin’ I can’t help but spit passionate.” 22-year old Raz has a young son. I’m not sure if there’s anything that 21-year old Lachow wants less than a son at this point of his life. He takes on the realities of his own world on the second half of the song, but his problems are petty compared to Raz’s. He drinks too much in social situations and “smoked too many fuckin’ cigs”; on another song off Reasons, he laments that his mom find’s his lyrics too raunchy. It’s hard to sympathize, but you get the sense that he’s trying to honestly assess his life, and that’s refreshing.
‘Money’ is the other deeply reflective song on Reasons, and Raz takes both verses with hardly a whiff of Lachow. A racial boundary exists between Raz and Lachow in spite of their partnership, and it is most apparent when they err towards realism — Raz’s preferred mode. Lachow simply can’t keep up. This isn’t a knock on their chemistry, which actually shines through the remainder of the EP. They trade bars in conversation on ‘Good Reasons’ and repeat each other’s lines on ‘Coyotes’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change’, giving these songs a certain cohesiveness. That’s where the real power of Reasons lies — each song has a distinct aesthetic identity.
Lachow likes to tweet and rap about how’s he a producer first, rapper second, and he’s not blowing smoke. Reasons is extremely varied and nuanced for having only five songs. His greatest strength his ability to surround himself with talent and apply it in just the right places. He has muses. Juilliard trumpeter Riley Mulherkar wails something mournful behind the MCs on ‘The Introduction’, then something peppy on ‘Good Reasons’. Drops of Ariana DeBoo’s silky voice inflect the beat on ‘Coyotes’, then she croons something melancholy behind Raz on ‘Money’. B-Skeez, that hooligan from Swag Kamp, sings the triumphant chorus for ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change’. Most important is Lachow’s co-producer and childhood friend Maggie Brown. Raz is the more impressive rapper, but it definitely feels like Lachow orchestrated the project as a whole.
5 Good Reasons EP is short and sweet, and leaves us wanting more from Sam Lachow and Raz. They have a symbiotic relationship; Raz pushes Lachow to contemplate deeper subject matter, and Lachow’s production gives Raz a broader palette of sounds to work with. It helps that they seem like real friends who kick it with each other. To say their partnership transcends race is simplistic and cliche, but it’s nice to see a racial interaction that comes from a place of honest camaraderie. Lachow and Raz are a one of a kind rap duo with unique creative possibilities if they continue to make music together. If one of them puts out a solo project and it feels like something is missing, then we’ll know it was meant to be.