Listening to Hieroglyphics’ newest album is like stepping into a time machine that takes the listener back to New York City in 1993. Or, at least, the fantasy version of a 90s-NYC that A Tribe Called Quest, Spike Lee, and De La Soul wanted their fans to envy. Even though the Hieroglyphics collective hails from Oakland, California, its music still imbibes the imagery of balmy brownstones, Air Jordans, snap backs, and hip hop that was conscious of its sound, history, and musical possibilities. That kind of Midnight Marauders-hip hop that can sound like summer block parties and pensive social outrage all at once. That groove that couldn’t go any faster because then no one could hear the lyrics or dance to it. That’s the sound of The Kitchen.
The album is beautiful, thoughtful, light-hearted and genuine, making a statement in the pool of lame YMCMB-wannabes that have overthrown the radio and made stupidity a trend. Though this is only Hieroglyphics’ third studio album, the rap group has actually been on the scene since the early 90s. This fact is evident in The Kitchen’s rare ability to provide an array of samples and sounds while keeping a sense of consistency, seriousness, and fun. Just listening to the songs “Golden” and “Gun Fever” in their intended back-to-back order wonderfully reflects this. “Golden” is the perfect Hieroglyphics-horn-tooting party track, an introductory piece with skillful mixing and lyricism that makes you want to jam while increasing your vocabulary. It then breaks into a snippet cut from an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where the gang is playing with guns and Charlie exclaims that he has gun fever, thus taking the listener to the next, more socially critical track, “Gun Fever”.
In general, The Kitchen is like a breath of fresh air from the past with a 21st-century kick and I couldn’t be more pleased. Hieroglyphics, as a group that has continued to stay true to their original musical epoch, can act as an aural mirror for present-day rappers and producers to reflect on where hip hop has been and decide where hip hop should go. Ingenuity and innovation in all art forms is mandatory for the sanity of its creators and integral for the overall advancement of culture. However, it would do the current main characters in hip hop a favor to revisit the likes of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, The Low End Theory, or The Coming to remind their ears of what progress has been made before them. Without constant reminders of hip hop’s history, musicians are doomed to forget its original tenants and fall prey to the sugary sweet synthetic pop-rap vortex, never to be good again.