Sunday, 16 September 2012

#ESPspotlight Review - 'ViRGO'










Times like these are a bit rough for poor Lekhem. There's the sense of accomplishment in completing a new project and experiencing how it goes down with the core audience he has worked so hard to build, but there's a tougher still river to cross. This moment right here - the very real and unbiased analysis of one of his biggest, yet most critical supporters.

'ViRGO' is a much-anticipated project that Yours Truly was honoured to be a part of, almost from the outset. But as I am constantly telling the (almost) Birthday Boy; the packaging is only the shiny bauble to catch passing eyes. Once unwrapped, the content is what has to stand the test of time, so every release needs to show a tangible progression.

When I learned of the partnership with 'cocky Korshun', I knew it   would give each an added incentive to shine, as they would be mirroring traits and talents that both know they have in abundance. The only question would be how well. Lekhem has wordplay and imagery down to a fine art, but an odd degree of hesitance at times prevents his confidence from coming through at the level it should. 'Konversely', with Korshun, the confidence is unmistakable, but has overshadowed his huge writing talents in the past. Where I am already (well) familiar with most aspects of Lekhem's character and personality, 'ViRGO' afforded me an opportunity to better familiarise myself with (UK Rapper) Darkman's son. Not only did the time spent teach me what a hugely talented, entertaining and hysterically funny young man Korshun is; but I also developed a new level of respect for the strong character who still showed up to every planning meeting and gave 1000% amidst two tragic deaths in the family, without one utterance of complaint.

'Character' is actually an apt description of both when it came to this mixtape; because not only did they show their true, dedicated nature in preparing for it, but the traits that took centre stage throughout this 12-track episode are funny, charming and braggadocious caricatures of their real-life counterparts. Don't believe me? Let's examine the evidence track-by-track...

'September'

I'm not going to deny that the first time I heard this, I wondered where exactly Lekhem was going with it. I loved the piano strains and the jazzy throwback to the 'Days of Doris' (though not her on the vocal, it is reminiscent of), but  whatever I was expecting as the opener based on the project meetings beforehand, this wasn't it! I thought the use of several 'expert' vocal clips giving an insight into the traits, beliefs and misconceptions was a clever approach - and not just because it was quirky to have someone other than themselves, offer up definitions in the typical fashion. Being someone who does not follow horoscopes, I had no idea what the origins or traits that defined the Zodiac sign were, prior to researching the concept a few months back. As a standalone listen first heard about a week before the release, it was enough to get me hyped for the rest. Quite possibly one of my favourite intro's on any release to date, purely for that 'In September' loop.

'The Sixth Sense'

Originally entitled 'The Sixth Sign' in keeping with the tape's concept, the track is such a sensory overload that it was renamed in keeping with it's effect. The visual imagery Lekhem opens with is vivid and I will continue to claim an influence for one lyric in particular! Even though the tempo is not the fastest, there's a driving force behind the pace and lyrics of both that signify a journey is beginning. Very hard opening from Lekhem that displays his all-round growth well.




'Cool Down ViRGO'

First heard in August as part of a special preview for Lekhem's website members, I must admit that the full force of this didn't really hit me until I listened to it in context with the rest of the mixtape; despite it being over one of my favourite beats in history (90s babies, if you know your RnB and your Old Skool Hip Hop, you'll be able to name both tracks this pre-dating this one)!


Although something about Korshun is magnetic on this, from the alphabet intro through to the first of many hooks that stay in your head for HOURS afterwards; up until that point, this one slipped through the nets for me. At first I put that down to his cockier side coming through, which was a bit of a turn-off for me but, what you don't necessarily have time to get to in this track is the comical side which, once you become aware of, actually makes the bravado more appealing. It's a very odd combination that he handles far differently to most, in that Korshun finds a slick way to turn what should be a minus into a big positive for the entire release. Clearly forced to come out of his usually more humble and calm demeanour; Lekhem definitely brought the 'Alien Resident' out to play in the antagonistic bars and wordplay on this one!

'Prometheus'

This one blew me out of the water. When I first discussed the origins of the star sign with both a few months ago, I heard the wheels turning in the minds of both, but could never have imagined this would be the result. There's a lot to love about this and you literally do get the feel of that fire that their 'Virgo brother' stole and gifted to Man (see that pretty little booklet that accompanies the mixtape for the full back story, I've heard tell it's quite a good read...). There's something sinister about the intro that really sums up the full force of what the combination of these two is really about. Korshun's hook on this stopped me in my tracks on first listen, then laughing at every one since! Make sure you pay attention to the lyrics; he literally had me envisioning a black Chucky doll dropping the bars...

Although Lekhem plays hard on this, both lyrically and through skilful delivery, the style of the track, combined with those lyrics and the shock factor make 'Prometheus' all Korshun's, overall.


Play 'Prometheus' on TwitMusic

'Serving That'

I've already told both Lekhem and Korshun that his track has 'Stadium performance' Dr-Marten stomped all over it, it's that epic. Warn your neighbours first - you'll do the song a disservice if it's not blaring at speaker level: 'Windblown'.

Far more than an arrogant tale of the groupie riches that coming with being talented artists, 'Serving That' paints the ugly picture of the evils that the music industry can bring you. Another infectious hook from Korshun (I told you there were many and we're not even halfway yet) where the cockiness is at 100 - but in the right way. His use of autotune is a nice touch that doesn't inspire that 'tear out your own eardrums' reflex that comes when you think of T-Pain. Imagery is everything in the lyrics of both and Lekhem on his "Lenny Kravitz" is something you want to hear more of. Definitely the storytelling track of the mixtape, the boys done good!




'Look Easy'

Trying to find fault with this one is near impossible. If you follow me on Social Media, then you will already know that 'Look Easy' is one of the standout tracks of the entire mixtape, in my humble opinion. And since learning who of the mastermind behind 80% of it was in this week's interview, I have to say a massive 'Well Done' to Korshun! This one grabbed me from the very first listen, when it forever sealed Korshun as 'Kormari' in my book. His comical, egotistical, confidence paired with the autotune vocals make it clear what you get if you dared put Kanye Omari West and Omarion in a test tube, Nutty Professor style. Whereas you need time to acclimatise to the arrogance in 'Cool Down', with 'Look Easy', Korshun finds the perfect balance. Humility really has no business in this scenario and by Lekhem's arrival, the swagger goes International. If I really have to find fault to maintain neutrality here, it would only be that Lekhem probably could have added a little more, maybe taken a chorus, to balance out Korshun's overall dominance, but that's really all I have! One of the best songs of I've heard from the UK, US or beyond all year. OFFICIAL CLUB / CAR / LIFE BANGER.




'Dance With Me'

One of the few older tracks on the mixtape, 'Dance With Me' was probably the first collaboration I heard from just the two, back in February for Korshun's 'Valenrhymes' mixtape. This one does a lot for both, because where Korshun calms the ego down to 'endearing'  on the scale and demonstrates a level of vulnerability that you find surprising based on other works; Lekhem goes full on into what I consider his strongest, but most under-used area - the 'Lexington' persona. A real 'Ladykiller' at his finest, it's the US-native's equivalent of shaking his money-maker (yes I said 'money-maker') and it never fails! Ladies - this one is ALL yours; make sure your collar is well-ventilated prior to playing, though...




'Romantic Illusions'

Something about the beat on this one has you thinking about 70s love songs - even if you weren't born then. The two give a level of appreciation to their female counterparts, showing that despite the bravado, when all is said and done, these Virgoan men love hard and fierce. It's the closest either come to the everyday personalities I know and I think that's what makes the song's chemistry work. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a straight, 'lovey-dovey' moment where they get lost in sop. Far from it! Both still keep their hard edge by admitting they can be difficult, but the degree of recognition and appreciation takes the 'illusion' out of the equation. It took me a few listens to understand what is so different about Lekhem in this one. Aside from finally getting a dedicated 'Girl Track' out of him (I salute my own long-running harassment for that one, I've been pushing for it since 'Know You' on his 'Str8 Out Da Oven' d├ębut); it dawned on me that he finally ventured into the emotive side of romantic relationships. As a very private person, he has always shunned that area, but it is something he has been more than capable of, for a very long time. It's all very well and good talking about confidence in approaching women and the skill with which he claims to handle them; but someone with his writing abilities has the potential to go so much farther and has been doing himself an injustice by not exploring that aspect before now. VERY pleased at the foray and the result. KEEP IT UP!




'Music'

The 'Music' interlude is obviously not meant to be taken seriously (right?!) But, does fully depict the comical side of Korshun that I've come to know to it's fullest - hysterically funny, a bit mad and borderline intoxicated at all times! It actually serves as the perfect opener for my (close) second favourite track. Absolutely love Lekhem's hook on this, great lyrics that cover every scenario and reason to love the artform. Korshun has you picturing embarrassing childhood dance moves with his sister, captured on an old camcorder in sepia...More than anything though, 'Music' makes you realise where Summer went. All three minutes of British mid-year joy it is captured right here. You can't decide whether you want to get to your place in the queue by the grill, or go for a ride with the top down, in a car that you don't own - legally, of course. For the record: I'm in no way advocating car theft. Purely that you cruise to this track in a car with the legal vehicle owner, because it makes you feel sunny inside, that's all.



Play 'Music' on TwitMusic

'Smoking Weed'

Plane take-off for an intro, In. Deed. There's no real confusion over the concept for this one. It's about exactly what it says on the tin. Taking Kendrick Lamar's backing track in a different direction from his original, you can't not be taken with Lekhem's versatility on this one. Running the gamut of all his accents, playing with speed (tempo, not substance abuse) and lacing it with his knack for visual wordplay, you can't deny the boy's nice on this. Again, love that Korshun tones down the ego and goes inward, to that edge of darkness again. He shows that diversity in  his bars that takes me back to 'Had To Leave', one of the best tracks from R2S's 'The Rebelution: Part 1'. His lyricism is top-notch at the best of times, but especially when he strips right back, as he does here.

'Sticky Dancefloor'

This fan favourite - if feedback is anything to go by, is actually my least favourite on the entire mixtape - but then I do like to be different! I like the fanfare intro that signals you should be paying attention to what's coming, the 'club night' picture that Lekhem paints very well; the way that Korshun messes around with the speed of his delivery and the way that both bring that cockiness back to finish out the entire project. Unfortunately, it's the only one that doesn't hold my attention hostage, despite being the strong 'party' finish that a mixtape like 'ViRGO' absolutely needed to have.



________________________________________

In the words of ESP's resident Jamerican - "and there you have it!" 'ViRGO', in it's entirety, iced with the thoughts of an insider. All in all, even if this were an external project unrelated to me, I would still endorse it as a solid body of work that not only demonstrates progressive talent in both artists, but a level of delivery and passion for what they do, far exceeding their contemporaries.

But don't just take my word for it - download a copy for yourselves from 'The Food' at LekLane. You're doing yourselves an injustice if you don't!

Download the 'ViRGO' mixtape:


Read and Download the 8-page, media storybook accompanying the mixtape:



Let them know your take on their works - CONNECT with Lekhem and Korshun via their Social Media Catalogue:

Korshun:


Lekhem:


Enjoy your week!
ES ;o)