Since the beginning of wisdom, the wise have encouraged those who would listen to know themselves. When you think about, it’s not as simple as it seems. After all, how can the eye turn itself upon itself?
But to avoid getting bogged down in a philosophical quagmire, suffice it to say there is nothing lost in the attempt to take a hard look at oneself. Awon & Phoniks, the masterminds behind the subject of this review, clearly agree. Indeed, they dedicated an entire album to the effort, calling it Knowledge Of Self.
In simplest terms, Knowledge Of Self is about awareness and everything that implies. Awareness of environment, awareness of culture, of language, of art, of instrumentation, of lyrical content, of sonic contrast, of expression. Ultimately, it’s about telling a story; a story of who they are, where they come from, the weakness and the potential they see in themselves and in those around them, and doing it with style. The result is a masterpiece of lyrical hip-hop.
The opening track – “Certain Presence” – is as strong as one could hope and tells the listener everything he should expect from the album: clean instrumentals, solid beats, cool samples, and profound lyrics punctuated with slick rhymes.
The presence of soulful instruments – guitar, violins, cellos, drums – is always welcome to me. Never mind if they’re recorded or sampled, I find their sounds organic, natural, and visceral; something I resonate with on the most fundamental level. The beats are literally moving, so much that your head might involuntarily bob throughout the track (and the rest of the album). The opening words are from a sample of a man saying, “Yeah, man. Like, that’s really the bottom line of how I walk this planet. You know, if it don’t touch the soul, keep it movin’.” After hearing that, I expect to have my soul touched. Fortunately, the artists don’t waste time. A collage of diverse vocals serves as a chorus while the verses are spit by Awon himself. His words focus on self-discovery and hip-hop culture, including bravado, violence, regret, and reward.
“Concrete Confessions” provides a candid look at such things, all against a backdrop of somber piano and heavy-hearted beats. He speaks broadly about the drug game and its self-destructive nature, “This game is fuckin’ fatal, and it’s easy to replace you.” Then he moves into his own experience and his estimation of himself with the verse that states,
“Since I’m being honest,
success I can’t promise,
this game is for the cold-hearted,
that ain’t me,
I actually pray that the Lord would change me
and chase out the demons and heathens who raised me,
suppress the vanity and the sin that made me.
‘Cause niggas like me is why the game is crazy.
I actually pray every day for Chicago,
Detroit, New Orleans and all the niggas I know
who don’t value life or believe they invincible.
I’m not ready to die by the hands of a criminal.
I’d rather grow old than young under the gun.
Bring tears to my eyes, giving praise to number one.
I thank God that I’m here to tell all of you my story
It don’t make sense killing over territory
and drugs, hitting innocent kids with slugs
that’s meant for another with heaven waiting above us.”
It’s difficult to be more real than that, but they press on with tracks like “Summer Madness” wherein the artists talk about how summer (literal and metaphorical) brings out the worst in people. In response, he says,
“I don’t wanna hold another hearse,
I don’t wanna say rest in peace another verse.”
I’d love to transcribe every lyric on this album, just so you can dig into it as much as possible, but the words alone don’t do it justice. You have to hear it all in context to appreciate it, within the instrumentation, within the sampling, the mixing, the rhymes, references, the message, and the mood.
Without all of it, you’d miss everything. So, get wise and digest Knowledge Of Self.
Awon & Phoniks – “Certain Presence”
Awon & Phoniks – “Concrete Confessions”