(Network Production, digital download)
It is a very rare thing these days to come across a hip-hop project that isn’t a collaborative effort in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s production help, co-writing or guest appearances, your average album sees credit spread around like seeds to the soil. Perhaps this is why Network’s “concept mixtape,” entitled Music Is Life, impresses so. Top to bottom, back to front, start to finish — it’s all network. Beats, lyrics, production, you name it. This is a solo effort, through and through. And though the album’s production quality falls just short of the work coming out of Network’s affiliate, Growth Till Death, the Vermont-born artist is clearly as capable on the mixing board as he is on the microphone.
The import of music in one’s life is a weighty concept to convey in six tracks and 18 minutes — not counting the 7-minute instrumental improv sampler, “Mozart Money Music.” If one believes Network succeeded in this endeavor, he does so not through explicitness, anecdote or cliché. Rather, it is through the freshness of his beats, the unapologetic delivery of a love professed and an urgency behind every uttered syllable that the album’s auteur expresses his passion for his "work."
I enclose that last word as such because one cannot help but sense that Network would happily continue his craft even were it not to earn him a cent. Granted, he does declare, “I’m trying to get rich and not die trying” on the project’s best track, the medley-like “Starstruck Dreams.” But he goes on to observe, “Everybody wants to reach the top / see what it’s all about / up on the clouds.” While Network may count himself among those ranks of star-reaching dreamers, his love of the craft reminds us that music may be the vehicle for some people, but for others it’s the fuel itself.
Network delves into the aforementioned topic of love a couple of times, with mixed results. On the serenading “I Need U,” the love-struck artist is unfortunately robbed of his most important tool: clever rhymes. While the effort is noble, heartfelt and certainly serves to change up (read: slow down) the pace of the album, Network’s words of wisdom seem better suited to activism and political commentary. Fortunately, he appears to know this, as reflected in the more socially conscious “Yes,” “Get Down” and “Gaia.”
Laud him or not, one certainty about this homegrown talent is that we can expect much more from him in the near future. As he sums up in the album’s intro: “I’m gonna be spitting ’til the day I die.”
Music Is Life is available at dropcards.com/network802.