Any time the Beatrock label drops an EP or full-length from L.A. rapper/activist Bambu, it’s a must-listen, not just because Bambu is one of the best conscious rappers around, but because he’s chosen to retire from recording full-lengths to spend more time raising his son. “I’ll probably put out songs on the Internet here and there, but no more going through the process of creating and promoting an album. Done with that,” Bambu once said in an interview where he also lamented the decline of the art of crafting longer albums.
But The Lean Sessions, an intriguing postscript to what’s reportedly his final album, last fall’s …one rifle per family., shows very little sign of a performer who’s phoning it in and would rather wrap it up, call it a day and kick back watching Adventure Time and Regular Show DVDs with his seed. This EP is quite the opposite: it shows signs of an artist who remains passionate in his work (despite preferring to be less prolific) and is constantly experimenting with his sound.
One of the highlights of …one rifle is “Lean,” a trippy-sounding cut produced by Karman, a high-schooler who polished his beatmaking skills under Sessions LA, a music education program that guides at-risk youth towards a future in hip-hop culture (it’s run by DJ Phatrick, who also ran the ones and twos throughout both Bambu’s years as a member of the duo Native Guns and his solo career). The cut worked out so well that Bambu wanted to work with Karman again on an entire EP, and The Lean Sessions is an impressive showcase for this new producer, who’s already displaying trademark touches of his own, like looping doleful and old-timey horns and woodwinds in “Sox Pulled Up” and “Incredible Cred” or punctuating Bambu’s verses by filtering or reverbing his voice.
The Lean Sessions also features Bambu doing what he does best, which is being a creative lyricist while providing a voice for the plight of those whose stories are overlooked in mainstream hip-hop, whether it’s domestic violence victims in 2011’s Adele-sampling “Something,” Filipino farm workers and 2009 Maguindanao massacre victims in …one rifle or war veterans such as Bambu himself in the Rufus Wainwright-sampling “America” and the Lean Sessions track “Vet.” “America” was about how Bambu’s years in the military weren’t all that different from gang life, while “Vet” focuses on the PTSD other vets suffer from (“And on the day I came home, I recognized nothin’/The voices in my head said, ‘Grab a gun and start dumpin””). The new EP may be far from a last hurrah for a skilled emcee who’d rather devote more time to family and community activism, but if Bambu wants to completely quit the game, The Lean Sessions proves that he has a future as an astute TV critic (“Man, they keep killing black people on Walking Dead, so I switched/Breaking Bad been my shit, that 40-ounce got me blitzed”).
Stream or purchase The Lean Sessions via Beatrock Music below.