OX – The Syllabus
(2005 Half Lit/Remedy Born)
OX is just plain hard. His beats thump, his raspy voice shouts out a thick flow and his domineering demeanor permeates every track. The epic nature of his production mixes the sounds and sub attacks of OutKast with the humor and grit of Biggie, creating a decidedly infectious collection of tracks. However, while Madison is replete with live hip-hop bands and unrelenting social consciousness, OX stays more rooted to the b-boy sentimentality and smooth profanity of East Coast old school. While Madison is nowhere near the East Coast, don’t think for a second that OX is fronting. We’re not talking gangsta posturing or pimp ideology. We’re talking about a rough style and confident persona layering honest street poetry over tight tracks and aggressive rhythms.
The Syllabus begins with an answering-machine message pumping the hype before the first beat drops. The introduction’s smooth bass line delivers a tasty, simple preface to the attitude, ability and aptitude of this fresh voice in local hip-hop. But it’s when the huge, operatic sounds of “Laughin’ at You (Hater)” and the string tones of “Hip Hop 101” (which features sick-ass Speak ‘n’ Spell scratching that is fucking fantastic) hit the speakers, that the Madison flavor emerges in force. This huge sound, melding classical instrumentation with rough beats, has been characteristic of recent work by the Crest while the chorus is almost more OutKast than OutKast. The ability of this music, produced by A-Wax with absolute authority, to transcend the norm and reinvent the vibe is impressive. Track to track, the tight snare hits and the booming sub tones maintain a characteristic presence even while mutating around so many disparate elements.
While OX doesn’t use the elevated language that has become the hallmark of the college- educated hip-hop elite in this little town, neither does he delve into the gangsta bling that has turned so many off to the hip-hop revolution over the past decade. He stays grounded yet mildly profane, honest yet slightly vulgar. This is the way people talk; this is the language they use. The samples and interludes peppered throughout the disc offer insights into the sociology and morality that has inspired this emcee.
The honesty of street philosophy speaks far more effectively than the “bitches and ‘hos” sensibility that infects so much hip-hop. “End of the Road” (“Man, I don’t got faith because I can’t find peace…/ Used to want a happy life but it was never that simple… /I can’t call this slipping / Nope. This here is falling”) talks of suicidal temptations and eventual redemption. The genuine story is sad and compelling, with a jaw-dropping exposition and ultimate salvation. The very next track is from the perspective of a grown man seeing his absentee father in a casket: “After seeing him in that casket and after everything playing out how it did, I’m grown now. I can officially say a boy’s become a man. It’s over with for me. No hard feelings. No hard nothing. It’s over. Closure. Peace.”
The tracks pour out of this talented emcee, melding introspection with pride, flow with beats. There are 20 tracks on this disc, moving from sub-thumping jams to poetic reflections, infusing the vibe with equal measures positivity and street sense. The music is decidedly Midwest, with R&B melding with classical and operatic influences, showing a depth of musicality that has become an intricate aspect of hip-hop in Madison. Not only is the message straight and slick, but the music is consistently moving. With The Syllabus, OX has added his name to the distinguished list of incredible talent that has come to define Madison hip-hop.