No Weak Heart Shall Prosper (Self-Released, 2010)
For: Anticon, The Prodigy, Massive Attack
Byline: Craw’z takes on the Pirate Signal... My greatest challenge yet.
I’ve had this monkey on my back. This “Pirate Signal” monkey... it’s been haunting nearly every single one of my days for the past three weeks solid. It’s not that I didn’t want to review No Weak Heart Shall Prosper. I’m all for supporting Denver artists and musicians in any way I can.... but being an unpaid music critic and blogger certainly has its limitations, especially in regards to good ol’ fashioned Craw’z time. Matched with this ridiculous amount of music in my “2010” custom iTunes playlist (yeah... go ahead, call me a freak), my brain is seriously addled as of late. So then there’s this hip hop album, and I find myself staring at a blank document, trying to gather my thoughts on it... a style of hip hop I don’t typically find myself jamming on a regular basis. It’s jagged. It’s hardcore. It’s edgy. In YO’ FACE, y'know? At least it’s in my face...
The Pirate Signal knows how to bring the party, but it’s not the sunny, ecstasy-laden bliss-fest many might hope for. The Pirate Signal has an additional project known in these Denver parts as the “Blackhearts.” They rap about the blackness of their endlessly black lives and personas—hearts, dyed hair, clothes, shoes, etc... quite a bit. And like the Blackhearts moniker might suggest, No Weak Heart Shall Prosper is generally dark in its assessments of socio-politically charged, topical issues (see “Love in the Time of Swine Flu”), murky subject matter seeps into the production like rain through warped floorboards in a crumbling house. Most beats are massive, atomic blasts, underscored with deep, low synthetic dirges that paint a thick curtain of opaque and grim textures. Samples are used if you listen close for them, but largely they’re disguised in attempt to create what the Signal would hope is a unique hip hop aesthetic, which is modestly successful here... but there are still some tired tricks (like the auto-tuned vocal hook of “The Saga of Dirty Street Kids) used that weigh Abraham’s original voice down a bit. “Darker, My Love” finds the group digging into a Michael Jackson neo-soul/funk groove that chugs along nicely, complete with a compelling vocal hook... it’s a hot track, and a shame Yonnas doesn’t take more advantage of it, spitting only one full verse this time around. “Automatic,” meanwhile incorporates Kraftwerk-via-Afrika Bambataa influence with a forceful, propulsive beat that lays the path for a biting, rhythmic lyrical flow.
Rapper Yonnas Abraham’s delivery is a mish-mash of styles that come together to fuse a singular vision—there’s the grim, raspy growl of Dälek, the matter-of-fact rock-ready shout of Run DMC, and the faster, syllable-cramming bounce of Twista, too... all excellent tools with which Yonnas can mollify his cultural frustrations while simultaneously gettin’ folks in the crowd to reach for the sky. If you’ve ever seen a Pirate Signal show, peeps go bonkers over this. Overall No Weak Heart Shall Prosper is a winning formula, but Yonnas surprisingly keeps this one close to home: “I’m a Col. Boi” and others are shout-outs to Denver and Denver only, which is curious... this stuff has the ability to spark some serious raves on a national scale, and it makes you wonder how far the Signal sees this one reaching for themselves. Showing regional love to your hometown is standard operating procedure in hip-hop, but The Pirate Signal have the chops take this one out of the stranglehold of the no-coast region and out to the masses…2010 and beyond.