Monks shows a level of continuity that most albums, let alone hip hop albums, lack. The opening track, “Monk (young),” offers a commentary on the music to follow, as the lyrics state, “One day the young monk snuck away from the monastery. His mind raced as new sounds and colors flew by.”
“He Ain’t Well” featuring Ozay Moore, which comes next, is not the strongest track on the release but as with all things new, it reflects a learning process. Mike Greenfield (drums) provides a nice break beat; Luke Miller (Guitar/Keys) and Mike Rempel (Guitar) display an eclectic guitar riff. Jesse Miller (bass, sampler) and Chuck Morris (Percussion) also do their part. The instrumentation is pure Lotus; heavy, upbeat, and rhythmic. Where the song fails is in Ozay Moore’s verses. The way he chooses to rap over this instrumental fits like a size small on an extra large, although his lyrics are nothing to be ashamed of on their own terms.
“Cannon in the Heavens,” featuring Lyrics Born, by contrast, performs up to the standards one might expect. The music provided by Lotus in this track is heavy, rugged mouth-watering bass mixed in with Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riffs and laid back keys. Lyrics Born does a fantastic job of driving the song with his timely enunciated, rhythmic, forward rap style. This is exactly what you want to hear from an electronic and hip hop combo; a great one, two punch.
The album is often interrupted by short narrated tracks such as, “Great Molasses Flood,” which comes right after “Cannon in the Heavens.” Remember that saying? Why use two words when one will do. I know what they’re attempting, but it takes away somewhat from the momentum of the album. Thankfully the transition is short and brings us right into a fiery horn track titled, “Deep Inside the Mothership” featuring CX. Once again the minimal background filled with timely horns, bass, guitar and drums is on point. I don’t think anyone would mind just listening to the instrumental but with all things good, why not add a cherry on top with the great lyrical rap of CX.
The remainder of Monks is composed of few transition interludes, short tracks, signature Lotus instrumentation, and above par raps. It draws in talented artists such as Gift of Gab, Mr. Lif, Mane Rock, Xencs L. Wing, Ras Arcane and Digable Planets’ Doodlebug. “Cloud 9” featuring Doodlebug is one of the best, if not the best track on the album. Neither the minimal, well put together electronica-infused instrumental nor the smooth, lyrical rap by Doodlebug takes front stage. It is a well balanced and produced track all the way through.
Just as it began, finishing the story, Monks closes out with “Monk (old).” It is a daring, successful album that challenges the idea of how an electronic hip hop album should feel and sound.