Though released late last year, Not the Same, Shane Reis and Lady Essence’s collaborative record with Providence-based producer ClarkWork, recently had an official release party at Asylum. While each rapper has released records of their own, there is a unique chemistry between the two that makes it seem like a future of operating as a duo, at least to some degree, isn’t out of the question.
“Nuervision” starts the album with a sample of Essence rapping over a beat that starts to build, drops less than a minute in and completely changes before Reis can make his introduction. Probably the weakest track on the album, beaten just slightly by “From Here” due to a dynamite verse from Essence, it’s interesting that this was the track chosen to kick things off. Perhaps the decision had to do with the false start which could have been cool if it didn’t just end up sounding like trying out ideas in real time, especially when compared to the fully-formed one-two punch of “Blah Blah” and “The Check Up.”
The lyrics almost uniformly deal with relationships, drinking, self-confidence, weed and staying true to yourself through your work. Aside from one line about “snowmobiling or going fishing” and another about “Spose inside my head,” there is nothing about the content that attaches this project to any geographical area. Where most rappers tend to identify where they’re from and provide details of their location, the lack of specificity actually works for Not the Same, helping it have more of a universal appeal.
In a majority of these tracks, Reis is given the thankless job of setting Essence up to knock a verse out of the park. He’ll drop the first verse, the hook, and then she shows up and brings it home. But it works both ways, as evidenced in “We Can,” where Essence starts the track and Reis’ verse sounds that much more exciting for being the new ingredient in an already established environment. The two play off one another so well in fact, that the beats occasionally don’t do enough for them.
The music is not bad by any means, and there are some unique instruments and tones utilized, but it seems so straightforward, especially when you can hear the risks willing to be taken by each rapper. There is a point about halfway through “On Screech” where the beat drops down to just drums as Essence begins her verse and you can feel the magic of a simple risk, nothing crazy but still a bit of effective adventurousness that is not nearly as present elsewhere. The song also ends as soon as another hook and verse from Reis could blast it into the stratosphere.
The title track is another highlight with a great hook, sparse beat and solid rhymes but hints at the reason for the lack of fully realized moments: A voicemail of Reis plays as the beat rides out explaining how he’s going to send the verses he and Sarah (Essence) recorded, how they should touch base after each mix, how they’re not going to be able to get back to the same studio so they’ll just have to work with what they have. I can only imagine that the intention of including this was to say, “Look, we didn’t have to work on this forever, we did what we could with our resources and check out how awesome it turned out,” and that’s cool, except the end result is not mind-blowing or world changing, it’s merely good.
This may also be due to the chemistry of Reis and Essence overshadowing any sort of chemistry between the rappers and the producer. I have no clue of the relationship or background between them, but if it starts and ends with mutual respect, it would be no surprise. There is a feeling that beats were provided, rhymes were written, the pieces were put together and these are the results. I can’t hear much collaboration or back and forth regarding the arrangements but who knows, maybe there was and this is still the end product.
Don’t get me wrong, Not the Same is a strong record and nothing to be ashamed of, but it does make clear how important it is for the material to equal, or be complementary to, the performances. There is so much unrealized energy provided by Reis and Essence that it makes me wonder if they are satisfied with the end result. Did they reach out to ClarkWork? Are they under the impression that this is the best accompaniment for their words?
It’s not, they deserve better, or more, beats and compositions that they can really sink their teeth into and will move with them, not merely provide a backdrop. Regardless, whatever they decide to do next, separate or together, Shane Reis and Lady Essence are sure to keep bringing their A-game.
Lady Essence performs at Come Together II, Friday, March 25 at Portland House of Music and Events; Shane Reis and Lady Essence are featured at Jay-Zeaster, Saturday, March 26 at Empire.
Latest from Kyle Gervais
- Edwards and friends: Folk veteran receives assist with Tomorrow's Child
- Revelations from Dominic and The Lucid: FERRET explores countless avenues
- Into an uncertain future with Old Etc.: Biddeford-based band releases tantalizing album
- Deep end of the pool: Purse dives into layers of sound in adventurous outing
- An Evening With challenges, confounds with hook-heavy outing