Album Review: Maestro Fresh Wes, Black Tuxedo EP
After a seven year hiatus since his last release, Canadian hip hop pioneer Maestro Fresh Wes has finally released a new project, the Black Tuxedo EP. Black Tuxedo is a prelude to Maestro's upcoming full-length album, Orchestrated Noise, which is scheduled to drop in early 2013 and will be his first LP released in twelve years. The EP is five tracks long, although the last song is merely the radio edit of the title track. Despite being a short release overall, there are some seriously well-composed songs on Black Tuxedo and the EP definitely has replayable value.
The first track, "Too Melodic," featuring Vancouver hip hop violinist Suzka, is a relatively short yet extremely catchy and up-beat introductory track. The song sets the tone for the entire EP, which seems to be a re-introduction of sorts to Maestro after a bit of a prolonged absence from the rap-game (although he has been busy acting, doing charity work, and he wrote and published a book in that time). Maestro's vocals, flows, and even some of his lyrics are reminiscent of Rakim on the first track, and the emcee sounds on point and sharp in his delivery. Suzka's violin work complements production by Vago nicely, and helps to bolster the image of Maestro as the conductor in the listener's mind.
The title track of the EP, produced by the Rezza Brothers, is an up-tempo song over which Maestro displays his technical, double-time flows as he explains what sets him apart from the flock of other hip hop artists. Wes recounts the significance of the black tuxedo, which he donned when he released his first album, Symphony in Effect, back in 1989, and the backlash he faced on many fronts for the choices he made in how he presented himself.
Nearly 25 years since beginning what has been one of the most notable and successful careers in Canadian hip hop thus far, Maestro conveys a certain smug assuredness in his abilities throughout the EP. With lines like, "Northern Touch was a classic tune but one emcee was missing though," (alluding to his absence on the 1998 Canadian hip hop anthem), Maestro has no qualms with consistently reminding listeners that he was the original Canadian hip hop emcee to break into the music industry.
"Reach For The Sky," a collaboration with Halifax emcee/producer Classified, is a motivational, inspirational track with some dope, Jim Cuddy-sampled production by the Halifax native. The emcees convey the virtues of perseverance, hard work, setting high goals and sticking to their plans (Maestro of course alluding to his motto, "stick to your vision"). There's a notable difference in the tone and delivery between Maestro on the first verse of the song, in which he sounds aggressive and intense, and third verse in which he sounds much more laid back and collected. True to his role as a composer and songwriter, Wes told me that this difference was intentional, the style on the third verse symbolizing him "reaching [his] destination."
Perhaps the most notable song on the EP is "I Wanna Know," an extremely melodic, rock-electro-hip hop fusion track produced by Rich Kidd and featuring The Trews. Accompanied by a high-pitched, catchy hook by The Trews, Maestro questions the loyalty of fans and peers "when the walls start falling down." The emcee vents his frustrations as he reflects on people showing love to him when he's in the spotlight, but disappearing and even hating on him when the buzz dies down.
At the same time, Maestro accepts responsibility for how he's reacted to the challenges of dealing with said frustrations, as he writes: "my apologies if I never gave you all of me/ maybe I ain't really trust you — pardon me," albeit with a bit of a facetious tone. What shines through most in his lyrics, however, is a clear determination to continue staying true to himself and putting in work regardless the support (or lack thereof) from people around him.
With the release of Black Tuxedo, Maestro Fresh Wes seems to be aiming to fortify his role as a frontiersman in terms of the evolution of the hip hop music genre. Maestro delivers a solid project with his new EP, with highly variable and at times borderline experimental production and a display of dynamic flows. If this release is a taste of what's to come on the Maestro's upcoming album, Orchestrated Noise, then I, for one, am excited that the man in the black tuxedo is back in full effect.