Psalm One

The Death of Frequent Flyer

(Rhymesayers; 2006)

By Aaron Newell, with one hand | 22 October 2007

Been doing some reading, the conclusion being that it’s patently dumb/lazy to dismiss this record on the basis of its production. Here is why:

1) Psalm-One’s beats, at this stage, should be secondary to Psalm-One. She’s a star in the making. And since Jean Grae’s Jeanius (2004, kind of) is shelved indefinitely, and has gone Gold in downloads, and therefore probably won’t ever come out, and since we don’t have anyone else to tell us “I’m a kitten?/ what? / kiss the p&ssy” until Becki Pipette (the glasses one) makes that record with Kanye, we probably need someone like this to rip a double-time flow over a slow, 68 bpm-ish Peter and the Wolf-type creeper of an intro track built around dizzy, orbiting strings and a diced clarinet loop for two minutes straight, showing up the dude Thaione Davis who actually opens Psalm’s album on his own beat. What you know about memorizing a T.I. chord progression weeks before remembering anything the dude said? The intro tracks beat provides a perfect backdrop for the meet-and-greet that is Death of Frequent Flyer, basically telling the listener that if they want an ignorable rap vocal, this isn’t the place. And I disagree with the damn press release that says that Psalm-One is like Lauryn Hill meets Devin the Dude. She’s Blueprint meets Yo-Yo, on Project Blowed. Lauryn was ferocious, but never sounded this intense. Devin had this much charisma, but was never awake enough to put it in your face. And Psalm-One is way too determined to let something like too much weed or too much Wyclef put her on her back. She’s got Print’s snark without the annoying squeak, and can let it out like Rifleman or Busdriver when she really wants to (see “Beat the Drum” where she rips Overflo’s mariachi oompa-loompa’s into purple confetti). Point being: she doesn’t need mountains of million dollar melody to get her point across, because her point’s far beyond whether she’s got a million dollars to spend on her melodies.

2) This brings us to point number two. Given that the beats aren’t meant to steal the show, Psalm is pushed right up front and we get to focus on a charisma clinic. See “The Living”’s Wonder Woman story about Psalm’s daytime work as a chemist in a Food Quality lab, which job serves no other role than to subsidize her nighttime rap career. Also see how she cleverly intertwines this story with cynical smirks about living out one’s dreams through reality television, documenting how she’s unable to smalltalk with her supervisor about life outside the lab because “she’s just mad when I leave cause I got somewhere to go / and my real life begins when I step out the door / and it don’t revolve around queer-eyed-millionaire Joe.” On “The Nine” she invites the listener to sit next to her on the city bus she took as a teenager, and we meet a fat kid who ignored the fat jokes by slinking into songwriting. Follow that with “Peanuts” where she gets her revenge on sometimey friends: “by the way, lost 60 pounds, became an emcee / so holler at a fair-weather when you see me.” In between the battle rhymes, dis songs about half-naked female rappers who get by on hot pants, and stories about what it’s like to travel with a Muslim rapper named “Brother Ali” in 2006, we get Kizzy’s autobiography in jigsaw, and she knows how to write her own tale. Point being, Psalm-One has that rare trait of making well-done backdrop production seem a million times fresher than it would be in the hands of, say, Qwel, because she’s charismatic by proxy of her wit, instead of just sounding simply cynical, and therefore bitter, jaded, and defeated. This is indie-rap high road.

3) Finally, here’s the most obvious one: the beats are good. Some of them are fucking fantastic. Overflo’s “Mountain High” has perfect posture by way of thundering break and anthemic horns. We already told you about ANT’s fantastic work on “Standby”, and the gem of the lot is Madd Crates’ “Rapper Girls”. Psalm is at her acerbic best here when harping on every substrand of girl-rap she can sink her teeth into. On spoken word: “Asking me? / Yeah, you bleed / but you can’t rap, period.” On pigeons: “Just cause your man got pull and good raps / don’t mean that you do / you’s a fuuuuuuckin hoodrat.” This would work over any of the shitty Scott Storch and/or Eric Sermon beats that you can’t tell apart on the new Method Man album, but over Crates’ “People Make the World Go Around”-type horns and strings the track is turned into a gorgeous RnB-orchestra bump, complimenting Psalm’s best performance on the album. Sure, there are some duds elsewhere: “Rap Star” has a low thread count, its Hindi chant and Bolly bounce wearing through bars-in, especially since we’ve been hearing homogenous takes on this same beat for about ten years. But if you’re not feeling “Let Me Hear”, with its slow, slithering low-end and deflected streetlight glow then it probably wasn’t written for you. The lines “xo when / head to head / open / boastin / hopin / this moment stays frozen” don’t keep secrets when followed by a whispered Toni Tony Toné take: “if the rhythm feels good to you baby let me hear you say…”. This almost makes up for “Macaroni and Cheese” living up to its name.

Point being: if you want to be harsh about it, then say that this is a coming-out party that gets a little messy at times, and suffers from some filler, but also acknowledge that it’s obvious that the hostess takes full responsibility for ensuring that everyone has a great time, and does so (almost) without a hitch. In the line of Rhymesayers break-out lp’s that served as gradual-collection-staples -- albums like Atmosphere’s compiled Lucy Ford ep’s, and Brother Ali’s Shadows on the Sun -- it fits in nicely, and also follows those records by offering songs that will eventually end up on the first “Best of RSE” compilation. Or don’t be harsh: think of Frequent Flyer as another first domino for one of the best artist-development labels in the business.