Ransom & Statik Selektah have delivered a ten-track magnum opus in the tradition of mid-90s east coast hip-hop–The Proposal offers innumerable allusions (direct and indirect) to a younger Nas. Some are very conspicuous: Statik teases “The World Is Yours” on the album’s eighth track, “It’s Ransom”. “1996” is a nostalgia-inducing jolt of “golden age” boom-bap, appropriating the same sample of Sly, Slick and Wicked’s “The Lost Generation” that graced the intro on Nas’ second album, It Was Written. Ransom brings to life an urban dystopia similar to Nas’ vivid descriptions of Queensbridge Projects on Illmatic.
It’s not always what Ransom says, but how he says it that so thoroughly evokes Nas in his early years of rhyming. As a protagonist, he wavers between notions of grandeur and feelings of frustration and brooding disappointment. His narrative wanders through Brooklyn, through his native Jersey City, through his tumultuous career, in and out of prison and in and out of the spotlight, a stream of consciousness blessed with a wealth of enduring imagery. His cadences, his inflection, his impressive vocabulary and his internal rhyme patterns are attributes shared with Nasty Nas. It’s gritty, it’s authentic, it’s both incendiary and graceful and it weaves compelling street tales. By the fourth track, “Life of Sin”, it becomes manifestly clear that Ransom is a masterful storyteller. If he is indeed the storyteller, Statik Selektah is the director, constructing a unified ethos and notions of time and place. Add Statik’s sample-heavy east coast touch and The Proposal is a record firmly entrenched in the past (We’ll look past the fact that Statik and Ransom linked on Twitter).
Ransom agrees: “I’m the last one you’re really gonna get that sound from. That believable [hip-hop] sound”.
He’s a purist, and his capabilities on the mic only reinforce his claim to east coast legitimacy. Ransom comes straight from the rhyme book, unleashing calculated, rhetorically powerful anecdotes and vicious, incessant streams of polysyllabic internal rhyme, evinced by the second verse of “Outcast”: “I’m mythological, prodigal, son of a diabolical volatile and methodical biological obstacle/pathological chronicles of this f***in phenomenal/astronomical, powerful, why was they ever doubting you?” “I Do”, the first track, engenders a valuable scheme of extended metaphor, the lens through which The Proposal can be seen: Ransom delivers his vows to the rap game and the “street game”. Looking back, it presages his drug-dealing lifestyle, but it works as a demarcation of his reinvigorated passion for the craft of rapping.
His personality can be hard to define. At times (“How I Feel”, “Life of Sin”) when Ransom is particularly meditative, he adopts Nas’ effortless timbre. But in moments colored by frustration (“Outcast”) his voice growls like a sputtering machine, and it’s easy to draw comparisons to DMX. On “It’s Ransom”, a brilliant piece of stadium music driven by racing strings, he mixes braggadocio with an authentic self-consciousness: “These n***as say I’m a legend, but I’m a peasant”. “Unexplainable”, perhaps the album’s most heralded track, similarly blends Ransom’s concern with being relatively unknown and genuine claims to mastery. The Proposal minimizes psychic distance between storyteller and reader–we are given an unsullied view of a troubled mind swimming with creative impulse. “Reservoir Scars” finds Ransom adopting other personalities (Nas did this in “I Gave You Power”), altering his voice to act as three bickering robbers after a successful heist. It hints at a linear development of events but requires the listener to put the pieces together. More importantly, Ransom demonstrates scintillating interplay…with himself. He’s never had a producer this talented, either–Statik Selektah supports all of Ransom’s whims, putting together a collection of solid, understated and evocative records full of scratches and samples.
This duo simply works. If The Proposal truly was crafted in the space of several days, it’s startling to imagine what Ransom and Statik Selektah could accomplish in an entire week.