PremRock - A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Label - Self Released
Release Date - April 15, 2014
If you forced me to pin down the two things I'm most passionate about in my life, music and sports would top the list. It's hard to say which passion is stronger and which came first, but they both take an equal amount of my time and are consistently there for me when I need them the most. My interest in each is largely separate, but in the rare occasions they happen to overlap, it's always a special treat. PremRock's new album A Clean, Well-Lighted Place isn't a sports themed LP, but if you're a sports junkie like myself (specifically an NFL/NBA junkie) the staggering amount of clever sports references woven throughout the LP's 16 songs will soon become mantras that you can't help but repeat as part of your daily routine. It's not just that Prem name drops Reggie Miller, Ken Griffey Jr., Khalid El-Amin, James Harden, Ndamukong Suh, and countless others, it's the way he does it. PremRock has always been great at incorporating metaphors and wordplay into his rhymes and has had plenty of sports references in his past work, but he takes it to another level on A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. Lines like "I miss you like a Chris Dudley free throw" and "Don't let the game get to your head like Jahvid Best" are heady lines that appeal to a strict demographic- the sports savant/hip hop nerd, aka Me. Prem's ability to seamlessly incorporate these type of sports references into his already intricate song structures is like the cherry on top of what would already be a great album with or without them, and makes it the single greatest sports reference rap LP of all time (I should know).
There's a lot more in PremRock's head than sports though, and he proves how well rounded an artist he's become throughout the LP's length. The album gets off to a fantastic start with a murders row of "skills" based tracks in "Photosynthesis", "Let Me See Your Tongue", "Lens", and "Supreme". "Photosynthesis" is an excellent introduction to PremRock's style for any listeners who are new to his music. The track compares his growing artistic career to a plant that's "turning shine into something I can eat" and is a perfect example of his expanding artistic range. "Let Me See Your Tongue" might be the most straightforward rap song of the bunch and allows Prem to truly flex his rhyming chops. It also just got the album's first video treatment and features a trademark moveable pieces beat from Blockhead. PremRock follows those two songs with two of my favorite rap songs of the year, the Quelle Chris produced mission statement "Lens" and the Willie Green produced banger "Supreme" (on which Prem lifts the opening bars from Ghostface's classic song "Nutmeg" from his sophomore album Supreme Clientele to serve as the song's hook). PremRock's assured delivery on both tracks combined with the upper echelon beats he received from Chris and Willie are a strong sign of the upward trajectory of his career as an MC.
PremRock continues to evolve as a storyteller as well. "Berlin" and "Junkie" are perhaps the best examples and sit back-to-back almost halfway through A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. "Berlin" is technically about a one night stand, but it's also a window into the life of a traveling musician. Prem has logged many miles the last several years in various tours through Europe promoting his music. While I've never hopped from country to country the way he has on his various adventures, he manages to put the listener right there with him as he becomes intrigued by a chance encounter that he (and her as well) knows he won't soon forget, but also knows it doesn't have a chance to last more than one night. It's this same type of honesty and self reflection that makes "Junkie", another song about a chance encounter (this time with, you guessed it, a junkie), work just as well.
"Rod Stewart" could be a fantastic storytelling song, although it might also be a reflection about the end of an actual relationship. Either way it's telling that PremRock is getting to the point that many of his songs blend fiction and reality so well it's hard to tell when he's embellishing and when he's actually pouring his heart out. It's one of two songs produced by Marmaduke, a mysterious producer I only know of through his work with the incomparable billy woods. Marmaduke has become the type of producer that just doesn't seem capable of making a bad beat. He continues to show an ability to create mood setting soundscapes that seem to coax existential musings out of the MC's he works with. The way PremRock is able to encapsulate the complex emotions that overwhelm someone trying to move on from a long term relationship is a perfect fit for Marmaduke's buzzing, melodramatic framework. Premrock also shows off his conversational rhyme style, which he's been perfecting for a while now.
The other Marmaduke produced song, "Can't Make It Stop", is my personal favorite song on A Clean, Well-Lighted Place and features the strongest writing of PremRock's short career and simmering beat from Marmaduke that contains a perfectly utilized upright bass sample. You almost have to have your finger on the rewind button to catch all the philosophical wordplay which is highlighted by the line "An obstruction of views is really nothing new/ If fiction is more convenient it's soon to become the truth". PremRock has worked with billy woods quite a bit over the last few years (woods actually appears as backing vocalist on the hooks for "Lens" and "Waiting For Godot") and it appears that billy's highly literate style has rubbed off on Prem, as "Can't Make It Stop" sounds like something woods himself might have penned to a Marmaduke beat. This type of evolution as a writer is an exciting development for fans who have kept up with Prem's recent output. He's always been a top notch rapper, but if he can continue to grow as a conceptual writer he'll give his career a true chance at longevity.
There are a few songs that come off as sub-par versions of perspectives he expresses other places on the LP ("Juliet Has Survived" and "Indifferent" come to mind), but overall A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is a consistent front to back listen. While there aren't any bad songs on the album, a sharper focus on quality control might just be the ticket to push Prem to a higher artistic plateau. The album closes almost as strong as it starts with "Young Alone Alive" and "Hold It Together". Steel Tipped Dove provides what might be the album's best beat for "Young Alone Alive" on which PremRock twists a series of literary references into his rhymes alongside his own one liners and words of wisdom, which sound as if they were culled from classic novels themselves. It sounds like the beat lit a fire under Prem as his writing and delivery are more measured and purposeful than anywhere else on the LP. "Hold It Together" is reminiscent in feel to some of his past material and is a strong showcase of his intricate, referential rhyme scheming. PremRock has perfected his style in the traditional hip hop sense, meaning he never comes wack technically. On his last couple projects though, starting with the Tom Waits inspired Mark's Wild Years and continuing on A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, he's proven that his aim is to be much more than a great rapper. PremRock intends to make timeless art that is bigger than a genre or a style, and to my ears his hard work is beginning to pay off.