The knowledge of self is the highest science.  The Arts of the self are its most beautiful expression.  Their lifeblood is the engagement of daring innovation and the honorable fortitude in preservation.

We often see a search for innovation today in this Art without a respect for the Real that ought to be preserved.  An entire fleet of fake critics, pseudo fans and bullshit song hustlers hits the shtores daily claiming themselves fresh of innovation.  But their twerk drowns in the shands of fans with no roots to sea melodic marine life that corrals the reef.  The reef real that can sail the preserving winds of song integrity where hard beat rocks and lyrical verses of vertebrates unite in polyps of polyrhythm.

Deep in the ocean beyond the pink franks, there are MCs and beatmakers that are dismissed by the pseudo-innovators as they preserve this music admirably. The commanders of these flag ships even fight through the underground, also becoming a dried forest none can sea.  With niches and marketing plans thrown overboard, Awon and Phoniks present a basic call to our music, Return To The Golden Era.

The MC, Awon, raised in Fort Greene, Medina then relocating from Brooklyn to Newport News, Virginia, he came with The Soul Students crew on their 2008 LP Beautiful Loser, filled with tough breakbeat curriculums and lyrically dexterous assignments throughout.  The producer, Phoniks, hails out of Portland, Maine, a workhorse with track remixes and beat tapes offered to get his tracks out.  The beats and the rhymes finally heard each other and they focused on deliberately presenting all they wanted to preserve.

Awon (Top) & Phoniks (Bottom)

The preservation project sustains the raw with Awon keeping his lyrical story in the ig’nant ‘drug dealing/abuse life’ of his teens and twenties.  Phoniks supports the background with an obsession with the heavy bassdrums, long crisp snare work, groovy basslines and jazz’d Boom Bap beds.  Awon, as became the blessing of the 90’s golden era of Hip Hop, portraits a life, clichéd and dismissed, with the insights of his present morality in retrospect merged with his then explanations of his once narrow logic.  It allows him to parallel the times he went through with the hells that continue today bound by the score most necessary – Hip Hop. (“The mind of these infamous niggas is mad savage/souls of the innocent lives is mad baggage/niggas soothe the pain with the promethazine, percosets and oxycotin/ got the homies on lean/while they noddin/ out they might get gunned down by a teen/who’s just trying to get a rep/blood on a head of a king/walking obituaries cover our white Tees/a kid can’t have a pack of Skittles and iced tea/since we hunted in the streets niggas tote that heat/intoxicated inspiration pumping that Mobb Deep/shout out to Group Home cause this flow Lil’ Dap…” – “Rule of the Gun” ).  While “Blood in Blood Out” is an immediately sincere story that reveals the pitfalls he once indulged in (“Now that I’m older with more understanding/ see the beast in the mirror whether it’s feast or famine/I’m the same nigga that hollers ‘no choices’/instead of working hard I decided to sell poison/and blame it on the Man/but I’m part of the so-called plan/killing the communities hand to hand…” he battles with strong phrased timing (“Midas Touch”) and flows smoothly (“Champagne Laced”) to augment the driving pacing of the tracks matching tales of high risk/high rewards plans.

In a time of rarity, Awon over the production of Phoniks is wonderful to hear.  At 22 years old, he cannot be dismissed as derivative but respected as powerfully inspired.  The snare work is as crisp as we needed of the D.I.T.C. molded sound and the sharp bass drums through well-chosen Jazz and Funk crates as Large Pro, Q-Tip and Beatnuts led Queens by.  Phoniks arranges tracks that allows the MCs to have full clarity on the mic, letting their vocals dominate even as we bop throughout.  With a street lushed hard bop sax on “Street Saga,” the melodically bass-plucked “Above Water,” or the high keys on “Forever Ill” and the consistent success of the mid tempo range that invite lyricists to extend themselves it all harkens our golden era but they must be sampled, chopped, looped and scored.  And as listeners must hear, Phoniks has earned the right to develop his own unique sound as he has proved he has a gift for excellently constructing its most revered and difficult one.

If we are to continue with real innovation, our music needs these projects of blatant, ill-executed preservation.  Awon and Phoniks reveal they have the skill to innovate and develop further.  However, on this Return to the Golden Era, they achieve what so much of the 90’s albums released easily did.  Corralling the real by the reef and giving life to Boom Bap vertebrates floating lost in the pop sewage.