The Cunninlynguists never disappoint. Since their debut in 2001, they’ve been one of the freshest acts from the South but it was their 2005 opus ‘A Piece of Strange’ that marked the beginning of the group’s second phase when they really found their niche and developed a sound that is truly unique.
They’ve matured and their music has matured with them. Instead of sticking to the same old topics, rappers Deacon and Natti have looked inwards and rap about what they feel and see around them. They are the torchbearers of the Outkast/ Dungeon Family breed of introspective Southern rappers and they deliver everytime they pick up the mic. But what really holds the group’s sound together is producer/ rapper Kno. He has surpassed the point of just making beats now and instead crafts music that is filled with so much depth, emotion and soul that you’d be hard pressed not to drop the negative connotation of “beats” and simply call it music. There aren’t many albums that sound quite like a Cunninlynguists album post-‘A Piece of Strange’. This is grown-up hip hop.
‘A Piece of Strange’ clicked with me immediately but ‘Oneirology’ didn’t really grab me on my initial listen, although I knew it was a solid album. It took me a few spins on a high quality system before I really saw the genius of it and “got it”. I’m not sure if ‘Oneirology’ would classify as a concept album but it definitely follows the theme of dreams throughout the album in the song titles, lyrics, interludes and the dream-like soundscape that Kno provides. Even the title is a reference to dreams. The Oneiroi were deities in Greek mythology that personified the individual parts that make up dreams such as night and sleep.
The intro Predormitum (Prologue) starts off with a vocal sample that croons, “I had a funny dream the other night” and gives way to an intense song sprinkled with Biggie‘s famous opening line from Juicy, “It was all a dream” except the “dream” is ominously cut out. There are also more subtle links to the dream theme such as in the second instrumental interlude where there is a barely audible sound of a door creaking open in the background along with a vocal sample that sings, “I tippy-toe across your dream each night so as not to wake you“.
The album ends nicely in following through with this theme with the spoken word Hypnopomp (Epilogue) (side note: a hypnopompic state is the state between sleeping and waking) followed by the outro song Embers. The album ends with a ticking clock (a recurring motif that also appears at the end of the two interludes) but it suddenly stops dead instead of the expected alarm after the last line of the album from Kno, “A part of me shakes, open my eyes and awake“. This creates an Inception-esque ending where you’re not quite sure if you’ve woken up or are still dreaming. It’s a brilliantly constructed album in this sense and they pulled off the concept perfectly.
As for the music itself, Kno continues the evolution of his sound but doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve heard on his solo debut ‘Death is Silent‘ and the last Cunninlynguists album ‘Dirty Acres’. That means you’ll be hearing a very moody album with lots of somber strings and haunting pitched up vocal samples but no one can create atmospheric music like Kno can so that’s not a bad thing at all. Kno continues to impress me as a producer and I definitely put him up there as one of the best in the industry right now.
Maybe it was because he got used to carrying the emcee duties for his solo album but we hear a lot more of Kno’s raps on this album. This is probably the most we’ve heard Kno on the mic on a Cunninlynguists album since ‘Southernunderground’. He’s not the greatest rapper, especially compared to the stellar performances from Deacon, Natti and the guest emcees Tonedeff, Freddie Gibbs, Big Krit and Tunji, but he still holds his own.
Natti, on the other hand, kills every verse he has on this album and at this point he might even be better than Deacon. We really need a Natti solo album this year. Take for example his verse from Darkness (Dream On): “Thoughts in my mind only popular in dark/ I can’t let come to light so I might suffocate the spark/ That might just spark the fuse that blows my views of self apart/ Opinions of my health, my self and wealth go off the chart/ My struggle to keep balance ain’t a challenge it’s an art/ Outside my sleep is silent cause inside the war is fought/ Every night, as I fade to the [darkness]“.
The vibes and quality of the songs here are ridiculously consistent but some of the standouts are definitely the back to back two-parter Hard As They Come (Act I) and Murder (Act 2). Hard As They Come (Act I) features Freddie Gibbs and is a song where him, Natti and Kno personify themselves as certain killers of the hood. However, rather than simply talking as stick-up kids or gangsters, Gibbs talks in first-person perspective as crack, Natti as hard liquor and lastly Kno as HIV. Murder (Act 2) features Big Krit talking in first-person as the president about foreign wars while Natti finishes the epic speaking as none other than the devil. It’s a unique concept and they all show and prove.
Stars Shine Brightest (In The Darkest Of Night) is another standout track and is also the lead single. It’s rare that the lead single of an album is one of the highlights but I’ll be damned if this isn’t one of the best singles I’ve heard in a long time. The production really steals the show for me here (and the whole album really). The beat is filled with pained guitar licks over a melodic bassline and is definitely among Kno’s finest. It also doesn’t hurt that the chorus from Rick Warren is really catchy and will get stuck in your head all day.
It’s still early in the year but I’m already calling it. ‘Oneirology’ is going to end up as one of the best hip hop albums of the year and possibly one of the best albums of the year period. It’s tough to compare it to their previous albums at this early stage but it’s arguably their most cohesive piece of work sonically, lyrically and thematically. I said it in the beginning but I must reiterate: The Cunninlynguists never disappoint.
You can stream the whole album for free at the official Cunninlynguists Bandcamp page.
Oneirology was released on March 22nd, 2011