On the most recent outing by Baltimore emcee Saleem and his band, things done changed. Saleem has, since his debut LP, done the following which cannot be denied: cut his hair, collaborated with Caleb Stine, and changed the spelling of his name. On Live Free or Die Trying, he and his band have done the following (which is a matter of opinion): taken the sound a bit down-tempo, almost jazzy; and settled into their own by showing comfort and confidence.
Live Free dials in at about 29:00, opening with a morsel called "What the Fans Want" to whet the fans' appetite, delivering the six-track meal steak first. Saleem himself spits like he has something to prove; which he does. Maryland on the whole continues to spend too little time attending to its finer emcees, instead looking to DC and unfortunate representatives of DMV like Wale.
Casual fans of hip hop tend to spend too much time focusing on the beats. For those fans, Live Free or Die Trying will not instantly strike a note. The second cut, Overqualified, has that down-tempo feel that lets more hardcore hip hop fans to look to the verses of Saleem and Topix. A song with that title is going to have a touch of humble bragging (see Twitter meme @humblebrag). The message on Overqualified isn't about bragging, however; the point strikes as more of an analysis of what is killing the major-label music industry: stifling talent with heavily label-biased contracts and looking less for the next big thing than the next big thing-for-the-moment.
The fifth cut, "5-2-2011", speaks straight to the death of Osama bin Laden. New listeners will get a full taste of what Saleem's philosophy of rap is by focusing on the lyrics. Those who look for political and moral analysis in their rap will feel their brain tickled along with their ears. The first verse bursts forth with a fired cadence that Saleem would be well-advised to maintain. Along with the closing song, "SHHH!", his passion is felt most on this over all the cuts on the EP. The band as a whole is inspired by social commentary and a desire to impart values through the vehicle of hip hop, encouraging the hip hop culture to open its eyes past the surface of what we see in music videos and to think about what goes on in the world and how it impacts us here at home, not to mention each of us individually.
If hip hop, like most of the music business, has been turned on its ear these years post-Napster, Saleem & The Music Lovers are on a quest to pick it back up, dust it off, and give it a path to longevity. You can't fight for the title if you don't box your way to the top of the ranks. Opening for talent like KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Wu-Tang Clan and so many others is indicative of the fact that this group can hold its own with the heavyweights. Live Free or Die Trying is a return to what made this writer a fan in the first place (see the review of Saleem's debut LP here: http://bit.ly/q6h8PC).