Staying relevant in music has always been a fickle game. Stay in your lane – and risk becoming irrelevant. Alter your sound or experiment too much – and potentially lose fans who started their journey with you.
Treading that fine line requires an evolution that Venice Beach’s Evidence has excelled at. From his days in Dilated Peoples, his solo work or collaborative albums (producing for Planet Asia, Defari and Brother Ali or rapping with The Alchemist as Step Brothers) he has developed and pushed himself to explore new avenues. The self-awareness of his development is a focal point throughout this latest solo record, Unlearning Vol. 1, and culminates to astonishing effect.
Evidence’s ability to craft a cohesive album with a host of producers (and sounds) comes to the fore here. Of course, his penchant for the low end is apparent but the diversity of sonics here shouldn’t work, yet somehow do, held together by Ev’s signature precision delivery. From cacophonous horns, interrupted by ominous stabs of a piano bass key on opener ‘Better You’, to the cinematic sustained guitars and fluttering strings of ‘All of That Said’, this album runs the gamut of sounds. Source material oozes a swagger of 80’s charm, ethereal vocals and discordant piano amongst a host of others. These sounds may be atypical and unexpected but upon hearing them, it all makes complete sense. Production credits come courtesy of frequent collaborator The Alchemist as well as Nottz, Sebb Bash, Animoss, Mr. Green, V Don, Daringer, EARDRUM (QThree), and of course, Evidence’s own.
Just as Ev has influenced countless others over his lengthy career, his willingness to adapt and learn from the recent slew of artists coming up is apparent. On this album, we see a who’s-who of the next generation of wordsmiths (Navy Blue, Conway, Boldy James, Fly Anakin and Murkage Dave) who all go bar-for-bar with Evidence. These interactions are peppered among the tracklisting, however, Ev is very much the main event and proves he’s still able to compete with today’s best, with a flow, delivery and content seemingly both calculated and carefree at the same time.
The record cover here provides a perfect depiction of Evidence, a jigsaw puzzle constructed with Ev simultaneously producing, smoking or on his phone while surrounded by the records, instruments and speakers of his studio. Somewhat chaotic, but everything also in its place creating a coherent project.
Interspersed through the album, different figures reflect on topics such as the three stages of artistic creativity (imitation, emulation, innovation), developing your signature sound and the titular concept of unlearning. This is not a self-help manual, more so overheard thoughts, or perhaps a therapeutic exercise for Evidence – but you may just find yourself a changed person at the other end.
Album Rating: Highly Recommended.
Poor: 0-2 Stars / Favourable: 2-4 Stars / Highly Recommended: 4-5 Stars