Die Ageless is billed as Detroit Hip-Hop artist Kevlaar 7‘s full-length debut album, but he is hardly new to the game. With a mixtape (2009’s Unbutton Your Holsters), an EP (2011’s Who Got The Camera?), two albums of contributions to his Detroit collective Wisemen, and countless collaborations with his brother (and RZA protege) Bronze Nazareth, Kevlaar 7 is a full-fledged veteran. Hearing how well Kevlaar holds his own amid the impressive roster of guests – both underground and mainstream – he’s assembled on Die Ageless, his level of experience is evident. Given only a cursory listen, it would be easy to dismiss Die Ageless, and Kevlaar 7’s sound as a whole, as nostalgia for early- 90’s Hip-Hop. The claustrophobic minimalism, quivering soul samples, grim movie monologues, and vicious circle futility, staples of that era are all over Die Ageless. But the sum of Die Ageless is greater than its parts. There is a richness to the language, a service to the language, that is rarely seen in hip-hop of any era. Where lesser emcees would eliminate an oblique rhyme, however beautiful, to clarify a message, Kevlaar is confident enough in himself, and in his audience, to give the line room to breathe and be understood by those willing to do the work, or dismissed by those who are unwilling. “Travel through my vessel like pops harpoon missiles/ whistles like an organ epistles/grieving apostles,” he rhymes cryptically on “Someday.”
Though he emulates the lyrical content and production that marked the early careers of /tag/wu-tang-clan/” target=”_blank”>Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and Nas, Kevlaar 7 cannot help but bring his own perspective to the forefront. His perspective, though embattled, leaves some room for a quiet, doleful optimism. Listen to “Metamorphosis,” featuring Funk-god George Clinton for an example of that optimism: “Eighties baby, nineties era, transformation is imperative,” Kevlaar rhymes. It might be argued that the optimism is necessary because the stakes are higher for Kevlaar. The message seems to be that if he can elevate himself, those around him will also be uplifted. It’s a heavy burden to take on. “I do this for all y’all, the kevlar kid,” is his rally cry on the song “Am I Wrong.” He equates his own success with success of his region and down and out Detroit could use a few wins. The appearances by underground mainstays Ras Kass and Solomon Childs are indicators that he has the support of the greater underground community. More importantly, his frequent inclusion of longtime collaborators Salute da Kidd and The Wisemen on the album are proof that he isn’t in the fight alone.
At some points, Die Ageless seems regional to the exclusion of all else. That Detroit zeal, along with the pervasive movie sampling, the sheer number of producers (at least five), and the seventy-plus minute runtime, often makes Die Ageless sound more like a mixtape than an album proper. In this way, Kevlaar is true to the street-team, fuck the chorus, underground hip-hop that raised him up. The diverse production team does offer a mostly consistent sound, but with so much going on, the albums message of consciousness is diluted. A crucial element of consciousness is focus. With strong production and strong rhymes, Die Ageless offers further proof that Kevlaar has the charisma and skill to carry a project, though seems to still carry an underground mentality where getting ears on the project trumps consistency of message. Part of artistic growth is learning to edit and shear away the unnecessary. Still, billing Die Ageless as an album at all is an indicator that Kevlaar 7 has ambitions beyond underground success. That’s good, because mainstream hip-hop, a genre comprised of excess and artifice, could use more spiritual seekers.