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Built To Last – Album Review

Note: As of the time of this post, ‘Built To Last’ is available directly from the artist via Bandcamp.  It will be available on iTunes and other outlets later this week.  Please follow Akrobatik on Facebook for further updates.

akrobatik-built-to-lastAkrobatik has been a mainstay of  Underground & Alternative Hip Hop since he dropped his first single, ‘Ruff Enough’ back in 1998.  Hailing from Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, his discography includes standout solo projects such as 2003’s ‘Balance’ and 2008’s ‘Absolute Value’ as well as his critically acclaimed album as a member of the Perceptionists (along with fellow Boston emcee Mr. Lif and DJ Fakts One), 2005’s ‘Black Dialogue’ which Rolling Stone ranked the 36th best album of 2005.  While throughout his career Akrobatik has generally been one of Boston’s most consistent artists as far as output, starring in or as a feature on 7 total releases between 2002 and 2008, his latest album, ‘Built To Last‘ comes after a 6 year hiatus.

In the time since his last album, Akrobatik went through one major life event that resonates strongly in his latest release.  In May of 2011, he suffered from an aortic dissection which lead to a valve rupturing in his heart.  He underwent emergency surgery at Boston’s Mass General Hospital and thankfully, he survived.  As quoted in back in 2011, Akrobatik stated,
“It was an emergency situation and sure, and it could be simplified as a heart attack.  But the way I look at it now, what’s important is that I’m lucky to live so close to MGH, that I had the wherewithal to dial 911, and that I’m a really active dude who’s been able to recover quickly.”  That same interview reveals that at that time in the late spring of 2011, Akrobatik was working on the ‘Built To Last’ album, about which he would say, “it was already called that, but it definitely has more meaning now.”

With that in mind, here we are 3 years later and ‘Built To Last’ is at last available and definitely worth the wait.  Never one to follow current commercial Rap trends, the album is 11 tracks deep and features productions from the likes of Fakst One, Hezekiah, Paten Locke, Slopfunkdust, Biz20, & Reason and features from veterans Mr. Lif, Edo G., and Masta Ace as well as younger talent such as Dutch Rebelle, JTronius, Reks, and Chilla Jones.  If you’re strictly looking for an album that capitalizes on what’s hot today in Hip Hop (trap beats, DJ Mustard and Mike Will Made it type production, club/twerk/turn up music, etc…) then a) shame on you for not expanding your musical horizons and b) this album is not for you.  That said, it is indeed a very strong project that showcases Akrobatik’s growth as a person and as an artist over the years, touching on enough subjects and built with enough musical variance to ensure there’s something on ‘Built To Last’ for everybody.

The overarching point that Akrobatik makes throughout the record is that he is in fact “Built To Last” and better than ever.  Perhaps the most powerful moment on the album is ‘Alive’, a track where Ak goes into detail about the moment his valves ruptured in his heart, the trip to the emergency room and subsequent surgery, and most importantly his survival and recovery.  Against the backdrop of a Fakst One produced track that builds and crescendos as Ak tells his story, lyrics like those below paint a vivid picture:

They found me face down on a pavement
Probably thinking about my tombstone engravement
Vague memories were begging for resistance
They said they couldn’t help me
But we’re just a short distance from a hospital
Mass general, class medical facility, incredible professional abilities

Ak goes on to deliver vivid images of his family and friends huddled around him and encouraging him at the hospital and concludes with a very powerful message, thanking his supporters and vowing to come back stronger than ever before.

My head cleared when I stopped taking vicodin
Now all I think about it is getting on this mic again
And to each and everyone who said a prayer for me
Shed a tear for me, maybe put one in the air for me
All I Can say is thanks for giving me strength
Because I truly believe you increased my life’s length
All I had to do is show some dedication
Now all I gotta do is take a little medication
You won’t help me avoid disaster
In the come back, better stronger and faster
Now it’s my mission to prove that I’m deserving
Cause thanks to God ya’ll and brilliant surgeons
I’m alive!

While ‘Alive’ is certainly a powerful and inspiring track, Akrobatik has always been one with many head bangers in his arsenal and ‘Built To Last’ is no different.  As per usual, Ak is lyrically and vocally on point on this record, using a potent and purposeful delivery along with air-tight rhyme patterns and clever word play to keep the listener engaged.  Tracks such as ‘Ak to the Future’ and ‘Three Hunnit’ are good examples of Akrobatik rapping with the force and assertiveness of a hungry vet announcing his return to the game and claiming his spot.  On ‘Ak to the Future’, for example, he spits:

A to the motherfuckin’ K, homeskillet
He’s growing stronger – rap’s void he’s gon’ fill it
With these lyrics that be militant raw – Many were hittin’ before
But most of them had one significant flaw
That good livin’ kept them from focusing on diligence more
And they forgot the reason that people was listenin’ for
Black Dialogue, I showed you back with Lif in ‘04
If you were sleeping then, well, now you’re gonna listen for sure – let’s go!

This lyric stands out because he asserts himself as a dope emcee, one who’s “growing stronger”, no doubt a reference to him coming back from surgery with more fervor than ever before, but also because he references some of his past works.  “A to the motherfuckin’ K, homeskillet” alludes to his track from ‘Absolute Value’ which featured Cypress Hill’s B-Real on the hook, ‘A to the K‘.  He also makes reference to one of his old tracks in the next line when he raps, “these lyrics that be militant raw,” – ‘Militant Raw‘ was a track off his first release, ‘Akrobatik – The EP’.  Ak goes on to attack mainstream emcees, proclaiming that “many were hittin’ before, but most of them had one significant flaw,” with said flaw being that commercial success and “good livin'” made them artistically lazy, emcees who “forgot the reason that people was listenin’ for.”  He closes the verse by reminding everybody that he and Mr. Lif brought the world a true Hip Hop record, one devoid of the artistic laziness derived from commercial success and major label industry forces, with the ‘Black Dialogue’ album and that if you as a listener happened to miss it, i.e. “were sleeping,” then “now you’re gonna listen for sure!”  He asserts himself, takes jabs at the industry, and does so within the framework of tightly composed rhyme schemes and clever allusions to his past work.  This is one of the many examples on ‘Built To Last’ where Ak’s skill as a both a true emcee and very skilled writer come to light.

As powerful as he raps on some tracks however, Ak displays his range as an emcee at other moments on the album.  On tracks like ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Let’s Keep It Goin’ ‘, songs that explore physical attraction, love, & relationships, he raps with a more laid back ease, though with every bit of cleverness and skill as his harder tracks.  On ‘Stop and Stare’ for example Akrobatik spits the following:

Your true depth I gotta discover
Ready to give a whole lot of this brother, and not just as lovers
And we gon’ make it hotter this summer, glad you provided your number
I’m wakin’ out of my slumber soon as you come around
Wait – I’m wildin’ – the moment that you showin’ up smilin’, I just fall silent
Nothing to say except ‘how was your day?’
Tell me ‘bout your last show and what club did you play – hey
It’s not like I don’t care
But when I want to say what’s really on my mind all I can do is, Stop and Stare.

Again, very technical and with a guided purpose in his delivery, but this time with a much more relaxed feel, matching the track’s subject matter and musical components (a piano driven, jazzy track produced by Hezekiah with chorus vocals provided by Eleon). Ak is able to capture that feeling a man gets when he’s so attracted to a particular female that he can’t seem to get the right words out to kick any game, effectively frozen dead in his tracks, hypnotized by her beauty and unable to do anything but literally ‘Stop and Stare’.

Other notable tracks on ‘Built To Last’ include ‘Where Am I’, a duet with Mr. Lif in which Lif rebuilds a ‘lost’ Akrobatik with imagery that’s not unlike a mad scientist reviving a Frankenstein, ‘Campus Invasion’, where Akrobatik playfully explores his conquests of hot chicks on college campuses, and ‘Hope’, an inspirational song which is my favorite on the album.  Akrobatik’s message on this song is for our communities to stick together to overcome the societal, economic, and political forces that hold our communities back.  “Hope, my city need it.  Hope, my family need it. Hope, my people need it.  Hope’ the whole world need it.”  Also worth mentioning, ‘Built To Last’ features many old school vocal samples from the likes of Ice Cube and LL Cool J among others, as well as plenty of scratching, a tactic that’s become a lost art.  Both elements definitely appeal to the Old School Hip Hop heads and add a the-purple-tape-420x190nice touch of True School authenticity to the album.  As Ak states in ‘Built To Last’ he is indeed “from the era of the Purple Tape” (a reference to Raekwon’s 1995 debut solo effort, ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’).

Overall, though not without its missteps (I wasn’t a fan of the chorus vocals on ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Campus Invasion’ is a quick-hitter 2 minute track that was fun enough for at least another verse), it’s a very good album worth a listen for any Hip Hop fan, albeit with particular appeal to True School Hip Hop types.  So whether you grew up on Run DMC, 50 Cent, or Soulja Boy, be sure to give ‘Built To Last’ a spin because regardless of your Hip Hop preferences, survival, growth, hope, and personal relationship are topics to which we can all relate and from which we can draw inspiration and gain knowledge.  And let’s not forget those patented Akrobatik head bangers.  4 out of 5 Limes.

4 Limes

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