Emcee/Producer team-ups don’t happen enough anymore. It’s really too bad because there is a certain type of cohesion that comes from an album produced by a single producer. Jay Qwest’s “Whiskey & Gunpowder” is just such an album. Produced entirely by Illastrate, the album is tied together by the soulful samples and subtly bombastic drums which gives Jay Quest and the A-list of guest vocalists a firm foundation to work from and an ample canvas to paint upon. This a highly visual offering, a concept album tackling the topic of self-destruction through a series of first-person narratives. Ambitious in its scope, “Whiskey & Gunpowder” could easily have turned out a sprawling and exhaustive album but Qwest and Illastrate masterfully reign in the theme and deliver a clear and concise record that covers a lot more ground than its 22 minute run time would suggest.
Out of the gate, Jay Qwest’s signature boom captures the ears and sparks the imagination. Within the first couple of bars his measured intensity and sure-handed delivery draw you in. When Qwest’s long-time partner-in-rhyme, Kel, drops in on track two the picture begins to form and skipping songs becomes impossible. Illustrate’s sonic agenda is clear and confident rich with lush melodies and woven intricately between flourishes of robust boom bap. By the time Boog Brown and Methuzulah lend their stellar verses to “Offiseer” the listener finds their self thoroughly engrossed in a story line more akin to a P.T. Anderson film than a hip hop album. ”Offiseer” is a clear high point in the record but there is no momentum lost as Jay Qwest continues to drive home his vision and although the guest list on this record is chock full of heavy-hitters (just check Tommy Lee Soul’s contribution to “Firewater”) Jay Qwest remains fully at the helm and proves why he’s been around as long as he has.
Front to back this is an enjoyable and compelling offering. If I had to levy a knock against it it would be that it is almost too conceptual. An emcee/producer team up like Jay Qwest and Illastrate could easily hold down a full-length, more traditional, record with a wider range of themes and subject matter. I would have loved to hear how that would have sounded. That being said, there is something to be said for artistic conviction and making the record that one sets out to make so I can’t really hold it against Jay Qwest for sticking to the program.
The Verdict: COP IT (drops 4/24/2012 on Elevated Press Records)