Awol & Gamma SinSerious (self-released)
When rappers like Common and Mos Def got big in the 1990s, record companies concocted a new label, "conscious hip-hop," to neatly package their sociopolitical-themed music and exploit an older, more affluent and often elitist demographic.
But there were problems with "conscious hiphop." For one, crappy artists cropped up aplenty, hiding a lack of creativity or skill behind positive messages. And, at some point, you realized that a lot of "conscious" rappers weren't really as smart as they sounded in their music.
Rappers Awol and Gamma fall under this "conscious hip-hop" umbrella. The young brothers— Gamma attends SDSU—recently released an album together, SinSerious, addressing everything from their concepts of the afterlife ("Everything Must End") to the misguided goals of "cool kids" in high school ("High-School Daze") to the woe of teen fathers ("Purpose"), all over a familiar mix of jazz, funk and soul samples. The album is even littered with nods to acts like The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest, both precursors to "conscious hip-hop."
Fortunately, the album stands out on skill, Awol's in particular. He's got the voice of Odd Future's Hodgy Beats and the cadences of Black Hippy's AbSoul with occasional hints of The Coup's Boots Riley. If that's a bit too much insider hip-hop for you, just know that he twists rhymes with great precision and intricacy. Gamma is less developed, but he sounds like he's starting to carve his niche as the moral center to Awol's lyrical showmanship. They complement each other well.
The material could still use some work. Their writing reflects their youth, with indignation flying in a million directions, and they sometimes lack enough detail to flesh out ideas. But it's a promising start for two young artists. They've got skill. Hopefully, they'll also prove to be on the smarter end of the "conscious hip-hop" spectrum, more Boots Riley and less Common.