Never just another passerby,
a still warring statistic, complacency still aside
All walking by a dazzled mural’s remembrance
A wall of Bio on brick,
a long story born short via heather grey textures
capturing days that were Nicer,
It’s always endless Cru that become Tats on walls
For the residents who can only honor the death of life
On the Point of the Hunt,
upon the same concrete and tarred ciphers that took it away
yours and ours won’t go unknown on the return
The triggers generic yet all so fiscal
I wonder at that wall…
The fate of the record is in the pockets. Records amassed behind bars to fill them or records recorded overflowing in them. The Original man is in hell. Still. And here, he survives, and willingly thrives, by this measure of his catalog. All defined at times by the way the pockets are protected. Are the pockets protected and ridden in guard? Are their wars waged flowing in perfected pockets of wax? This really isn’t an Art of exaggerated interpretation but Arts of retrospective reenactment, where the prose of beautified grit illuminates, resonates and even elevates. And so Skillastrator pick pockets for #ArtOnArt. But what’s the science?
“We can talk when your president speak/allow me, I put chalk where your residents sleep/frown cheeks/took false like a gentlemen G/found peace/by the time you hear it, they listening/they tap your phones/Are you listening?…” flows Eto through “Wolverine” off Heather Grey, the duet EP with Willie the Kid, all produced by V Don. And follows that with the distinct details of wrong choices within the wrongdoing. Filling it with acumen that causes rewind, replay and pause for reflection… “To make sure he don’t see me/had to stay in his sight…” One of the most natural mid to slow tempos you’ll ever here that immediately births itself in the pocket. The syllables all match in a sincere, to-our-face conversational tone that inflects with ideal rise and fall, whether with the heinous moment recapped or the charismatic peak of exposed supremacy.
V Don, on Heather Grey, knows the bpm for maximum punctuation, the bass menace quotient for the calm fury Willie and Eto orate and the drumkick and snare marriages that excite them into their pocket gliding. The abnormality is the rarity that there are two MCs with so much mastery. Willie the Kid is a wordplay master, homonym juggling to driving speed building wordpower into focused musings on “Bet I Live,” “Play the game like Tommy Lasorda/kinda sorta/sort the money on the sorter/assertive, certainly we got bail money but what’s the verdict/ lesson as a juvenile, I been observant/hard to lose it if you really earned it…” A revolving door of inspiration for Eto, knowledge how he overloads with techniques from the juggling of the internal rhyme to the basketballing metaphoring through an unrushed upper tempo on “Appalachian Meeting,” “Meetings at the Appalachians/niggas be seeking validation from us/ I slaughter line then I can break out the cuffs/ weigh it up, check the calibration/ they hit the door off with allegations/ went from statements to applications/ they got the job, slayed us/ now they weighing in off the way ups/ took us down court, I block layups…” With great, average and shit rhymers releasing EPs as a lazy way of pumping product more readily, Heather Grey literally is a complete work. As all EPs, we want a longer forever to repeat yet the cohesion of themes, the balanced peaks between Willie and Eto and V Don’s success in aural atmosphere makes it a stellar piece.
Brothers and sisters, it’s late in this #InvisibleRenaissance and often the best of the music has been dominated by street crime rhymers. Lauded and heralded just for its grime, the massive amount of detail that often goes beyond the GOAT candidates from Ghost to Rae, Prodigy to AZ or the Mt. Rushmore OG, KGR. This music is almost not a counter-culture anymore, just alternative pop, at every fucking level. But somewhere in here, down here with the best cause I ain’t ever up there, there is a lust for rebellion that just might harpoon itself some revolution. No pressure applied to something that must revolve naturally but the more grit, grime and live-ness captured, this music can be back to a forum that are our best stories and soon, challenging builds. Not just what it’s become, another cheap hustle for niggas.
The ignorant may immediately see Eto and just see alow statured crime exponent. I saw and heard a brave Boricua, out of the world where a nigga can’t even be a nigga, telling tales where survival is impressive let alone the daring to not compromise. See, Eto comes into this #InvisibleRenaissance, these 2010’s, a survivor of the #DarkAges, (the 2000’s) grinding through bars and bars refining technicalities in the rhyme and learning to augment every last emotion in the word choice and the right saying of that word. And in the 2000’s, these labels, from the pop to the indie, weren’t running to market a Boricua, particularly light skinneded Puerto Ricans who couldn’t pass as a simple African American target. These many Ricans, certainly of indigenous and Black blood, with a faster language, holding more skinned drums (congas, bongos, panderetas…) and still coming from unknown histories as Amerikkka’s last colonial subject. To then be pitched to the ignorant molly poppers or back packing suburbanites is supposedly an impossibility. And when we go, “where this little spic toughin and roughin the rhyme come from?!” logging onto YouTube and seeing an over ten year history of perfect cadence sprouting out of a tree of Rochester brothers, then we can understand why every single work since 2017 has been so surprisingly powerful. They are the fruit of labor, Eto’s first great prime.
Then it peaks with an LP that not only is possibly the best of the year but nearly puts Eto as an essential MC of this #InvisibleRenaissance. Much of the music’s reinvigoration has been with a greater digging of Soul, a massively lower bpm and often the removal of the breakbeat as the core pocket groove. Where Roc Marciano has dominated as the stylist MC of the era and Ka has become the poet laureate with flashbacks of concrete hell and a built up theme of a more righteous quest. Eto now rises with a detail of violence, an introspection of clarity and a specialized tone that slowly is placing him on this cannon of supremacy. Nowhere is this heard better than with the stellar work with the legend DJ Muggs, Hell’s Roof.
Wonderings of the chemical reaction that put the paint on the brick
Just as the wily move performed on that other corner there was against the groove of my plus lesson I gave the young God
A square to build awareness mutated into a swung bat to secure a brick
A loose enamel that clings badly, the human dehumanizes as the understanding dissolves
We made ourselves colored men for the promise in the most brittle brick
And his face is on the wall, the way BG drew Tito, like the days on 183rd when I told him he the Original man, the Creator in his own Creation
And no! Now Cipher!
I cannot ruin the mural with any of the solutions out my eyes now.
Returned to the essence.
Hell’s Roof is an album that merits a debate of Eto’s greatness, an essential LP of the year. “I’m not for that, I think about it after, ain’t no hoppin’ back/Hells Roof, Rochester, New York, I seen mobsters crack…” (“Dominate”). And this songbook is the beginning of this aftermath, counting up the skill sets, wondering the stories and the trauma’s afflictions. Do the target markets listen to this music just to excite themselves through our flights of hatred? I can’t care. “These niggas be weighin’ on shit they ain’t got nothin’ to do with/ Loose lips, new fifths, I give ’em all of the ammo/ Then it gets to the point you can’t call on your famo…” (“Dominate”) And through Muggs’ clipped organ and deepened bass drumkicks, I know these songs are the scores of our mandatory anger. And for Eto, the streets have only become the indu-streets and that when our ears and Eto’s words, through Muggs’ drums, collide it’s the inspiration of horror invoked the way Prodigy (#RememberedInPerfection) once worked.
The wonderful suffocation of “What You Sayin” with Muggs’ guitar licks and vocal wailing through drowning bass, as Eto gives a documentary tour, a rewound walk through of transitions and elevations in ciphers with no known ladders. His second verse is a perfect capsule of Eto’s tone of inflected slow flow conversational tone. The inflection at the end of, “We gon’ have a gathering but he won’t make the ciphers/ See if we go back to that again, she won’t change a diaper,” telling chunks of a storied chaos in three bars, “Timing is everything, pump the brakes, trust the kibosh/ Got a whole lot of shootin’ space, guns at the lodge/ We was lootin’ base, spent a couple months on the dodge,” and diarizing the most dangerous mentality to survive against with a punchline of the small issues that make it a seemingly unpredictable hell, “Word up, niggas get hype and kill you off their favorite theme song/ If you blink wrong, won’t be the ones they spill ink on/ Huh, them them niggas we take links off/ Oh man, damn, the sink clogged…”
The way Eto rhymes on Hell’s Roof is coded in fragments of moments, ideas and the rules of the illegal street economies he comes from. Like the arcane musing of “Cousin’s home, paint him a mural, they throw a candle show/ Woah, nah, you ain’t got those rights/ That’s me talkin’ to homie I knew my whole life/ I don’t even take the gato’s life, niggas think ’cause you cool/ You don’t got it in you, that’s what I don’t like…” (“Victory”) or the harshest of musings barraged on us (“The truth suffers more than the liar did/ If I can kill a rat, I can fly a pig/ The sharpest knife in the kitchen came out of Momma’s crib/ You’ll never see it my way, I’ll trade my eyes for his” – “Roses”) of a warped world that hardly can be rationalized but has the consistency of fatality (“Explain to Frank what a hustler is/ He don’t fly straight either, read the fine print/ Where that time went? They in and out now/ Cough a loogie on them, splash their cheeks, skin their scalp down/ I keep it thorough, nigga, support the lifestyle, yo/ Whew, blow his lights out, right now…” – “Roses”). Uncompromising sinister and if he didn’t say it with perfect cadence, with the gift of conversational tone with exclamated sighs and inflections of punch, with aprecise bar balance and cleverness of references, we’d be all the more horrified.
See, since before, but maybe officially after Cuban Linx, we’ve been shown the humanity of the economies that keep our ghettos afloat. So in humanizing the dealer and the hustler, we know they can at one point be filled with principle to justify the fulfillment of demand and yet immediately turn and be void of ethos to protect the supply. These hypocrisies become understood contradictions if we see it all in the macro-view, that these are oppression’s industries. To the listening markets, i.e. the wiggers and the squares, it’s all a wonderful glorification of the savage winning ethos that make America great again and again, another of the ever-bloody feathers on that red cap. To this writer, who has taught scores of young men trying to leave these popping fields of rivals, custies and blue salchichon, the Eto works, exemplified best by Hell’s Roof, are about the worth of a surviving warrior and the birth of any honor, ethos or principle are in the refusal to cower to weakness. Yet moreso, it’s the integrity heard in such a developed MC ability, the ever consistent choice of progressive hardcore scores to use that MC skill on. Truthfully, if you’re really listening to it all you don’t want to be in that world…but you do want to attack whatever hells you’re in with the same powerful vigor Eto has done to his.
And Eto attacks in a such a cleverness of wordplay, underworld slang and musings that stay in your mind cause they challenge this life’s entire worth. Through “Holy Wine,” “I came up from Ls, it doesn’t scare me/ That’s what prepared me, you be the first or the next/ They ain’t get to their purposes yet/ Rock bottom, that’s the worst it could get/ Police don’t serve and protect/ Don’t bring dirt to the rest/ Fresh out the kitchen with a pot on the stove/ The gun works, but a kind word’ll get the snake out of his hole/ I ain’t never met a robber who stole ’til this day…” with a smooth flow that pauses long and distinctly every three bars. It lets him stay in the pocket of an organ groove Muggs creates that is only thinly held by a gorgeous rolling smack snare and distant drumkick. There is the brotherhood ethos of “Last Supper” exquisitely pronouncing, “Broke together, rich alone, together we starve/ I’m wake, you get the service with the memory card/ Thus far, they ain’t try me yet, I show remorse too/ But there’s only a few things that I regret/ Can’t buy respect, can’t purchase heart/ But I can sell his head for a verse he bought…” and ending with yet another bar of woven wordplay for pondering, “’Cause I can’t tell you the game, but I can let you sell it.” It is ultimately the distinct detail that often peaks Eto’s verses and none does this more than “Attics” where he takes us through a photo album of the custies he serves and all of their quirks. This is the sincere magic of Eto, humanizing hell without the grafted and disingenuous ulterior motive.
Now, DJ Muggs producing for such strong MCs that are the embodiment of the #InvisibleRenaissance gives him a list of works other GOAT producers have yet to match. Hell’s Roof continues Muggs’ stellar work and it amplifies the subtle brilliance Eto has. One may notice the metaphoring as Eto mulls over “lost vows” through the chorus of the twang plucking guitars on “The Blues” but its the retrospection (“But if you livin’ poorly, it don’t count, what’s in it for me?/ Let the blues spin, I been a loser this long”) and the constant inspiration leaving negative ciphers (“They still tryna judge me for my previouses/ Saw me at work, now they don’t wanna see me with it/ Lose them, I don’t reconcile, respect the vow/ So now, it’s on a good few men/ Yeah, I been about it since my niggas doubted…”) that has become a theme for Eto, one that enriches us listening. And Muggs again is at the handles orchestrating another great work for an MC, able to constantly draw the best out of the lyricists he has worked with. It is no stretch that one can argue that Muggs has given the MCs he’s worked with from Planet Asia to Sick Jacken and maybe even GZA and from Meyhem Lauren to Roc Marci and now Mach-Hommy and Eto, their best work. Certainly with all, one of their most essential.
The rising illness of Eto is that he immediately gave us an addendum with more retrospection though slightly less brutal (possibly because Muggs’ chaos is a special spark) fatality through Superior’s score on Long Story Short. Advice flows through “It Ain’t Right” and no shortage of brilliant quotables and visual photos (“Land of the free we pay a lot for/Mama yell at the top of her lungs when she raid the sock drawer”) and rules de la calle that really are not compatible with life principles (“Niggas won’t last if they families are secondary to cash…” – “The Casket”) and that’s just what the fuck it is. So fucked up and that’s why the songs counter so well as “Wolves” (“Get you a job if hustling fails/ niggas coming home stubbed and pale/we could’ve been under the jail/ looking forward to loving the mail/you don’t make up for your sins in church/if all of us is guilty then no one is”) that leaves myself in a place I go to often, where the Asian sages went ascetic for: that the immorality of all is tied directly to the morality of all. An opening of the Heart Sutra with breaks guiding the words of the unbroken.
Musically, it’s unfair to expect Superior to follow a GOAT candidate Muggs who is in another prime and holding a crate game on another level. And yet Long Story Short’s instrumentals hold rugged. The snares slide long into Eto’s effortless enunciation on “Another Day,” and the flute flowing matching a definite essential MC of the #InvisibleRenaissance, Skyzoo, on “Take Y’all Back” or the other lovely drumless score on “Fortune” is all a producer making all the right decisions. When Eto flies through with lines as “You either lifting up guns or you uplifting…” the continuation of inspiration is there. It all sums another strong LP for Eto who grows more intriguing with every verse. What will he say? How will he deliver it? What will stay in our thinking moments long after from it?
Rochester, New York is filled with talent and Eto is among the leaders. The New Crack Era movement led by Eto personifies this era’s wave of strong crime rhyme MCs. With Eto, he represents a musical integrity, a pure street grit fully transposed to wax, that is also growing into one of lyric jewels. These jewels are crusted, dusted and even maladjusted coming from oppressive cases and shackling necklaces that savagely adorn the crime’d ghettos. But they worth something, often become the most essential and where too many of our daring innovations come from.
The essence? Only word is bond.
My sacred word, the sword of the Blackest pedagogy
Another learner on the park bench will become the student in my classroom
So the performance of my preparation revolves to a greater preparation
I will perform the revolution,
the build to the builder unbeknownst to himself
Even as Confucian ammunition seems to load forever
Even as Allah’s Supreme math keeps us joyously poor in sacrifice
And even if the victory champagnes of Che be deemed to never pour.
All as this damned wall bears horror so sturdy
Remember this wall,
it holds ups hell’s roof
The organization of these principles around a counterculture, an expressive arts of creation that uplifts the ideas and thoughts of an oppressed people, is why I’m an honored builder amongst legends, knighted by heroes of Medina (Rakim Supreme Shabazz Allah/Rudy Lo, Thirstin Howl the 3rd, Bonz Malone) to further create in my element as a Hip Hop Writer (creative author/principled journalist/honoring historian) of #ArtOnArt & #ScienceOnMusic. So the world may find love that locks in with the action of loyalty though they may never find another writer with my kind of grammar…
Living and sharing the pillars of:
Peace, Sunez Allah