Pawns & Giants is a brand new album from hip hop artist, YoRel. This guy is an indie hip hop legend. He’s been in the game for decades and originally built up a following the old school DIY way, by marketing CDs and cassettes to people in person. While he now takes advantage of 21st century distribution channels, his music still has that organic and real feel to it. A factoid I remember about YoRel from reviewing one of his previous releases is that he is the nephew of co-pilot Leroy Homer (one of the heroes of Flight 93 on 9/11).
YoRel’s recent album, When Ink Turns To Blood was massive and contained 24(!) tracks. The release was probably most memorable for the iconic song Crossroads II (featuring Krayzie Bone and Justin Moore), as well as the soulful mini-hit, Gods & Devils (feat. Ekaterina & Arianna Celaeno). There was so much material I didn’t even get a chance to cover it all in the last article. Crackpot-Jukebox was another noteworthy song, with its exotic, almost medieval-style backing music, and theatrical dialogue. Many of YoRel’s songs have a conversational presentation. At times it’s like your listening to the soundtrack of a hip hop musical or stage production.
Pawns & Giants, YoRel’s newest album includes songs which he didn’t have space for on the last one. Don’t let that fool you though, these jams are every bit as good. He incorporates a lot of spoken word narration, creatively intertwined with robust hip hop. YoRel also offers up a lot of casual social commentary, making references to current events, often in subtle and humorous ways. He doesn’t beat you over the head with his message, but rather challenges you to think about what it is he’s getting at. His lyrical style is very cerebral, and even when he’s seems cynical, there’s always an inspirational theme swimming around in the undercurrents.
That being said, there are some real powerhouse tracks on here. Often times, YoRel draws you in with a cozy narration intro and then bam! The hard hitting action kicks in, and his delivery comes at you full throttle. He really makes excellent usage of sound effects and background ambiance. The song Black Opps for example, plays like a thrilling A-Team adventure. The title track Pawns & Giants lays down straight up real talk about how the world operates…taking no prisoners. Yorel also proves once again that he’s a master of retro pop culture (Steven Seagal references, etc), and some of his most clever similes and analogies may whiz right over listeners’ heads if those individuals are below a certain age. It won’t matter though, because these jams are wild.
This is top tier entertainment honestly, party central. My favorite song is probably Grandma’s Soup. It’s very well put together, and serves as a window to YoRel’s sentimental side. Overall, Pawns & Giants is an intelligent and thought provoking release. There’s a lot of good hip hop out there now, but this album is a reminder of just how advanced some of the more experienced hip hop pros are. This is big league stuff right here.
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