Album Review: I Self Devine "Self Destruction" (Rhymesayers 2005)

May 07, 2012 8 min read




The title “Self Destruction” can be viewed to have many meanings. Ultimately, it is an album about dismantling/rebuilding and applying new strategies. All previous I Self Devine projects were group efforts (Micranots, Semi Official) and one of the greatest challenges about being in a group is being able to always find a common ground where each personal agenda shines thru and still reflects the ideas of the whole, as well as the individuals. That is far easier said than done. “Self Destruction” was I Self’s first true solo project, affording him the opportunity to craft an album exactly as he saw fit.

This is clearly evident in the musical foundation. The Micranots projects were produced by Kool Akiem and Semi Official was handled by I Self Devine and DJ Abilities. For “Self Destruction” he reached out to a cast of high caliber producers, with satisfying results. A heavy amount of the contributions came from the Northwest US, who collectively produced 8 of the 15 tracks, courtesy of Jake One (3), Vitamin D (3), and Bean One (2). Ant (of Atmosphere) knocks out 7 tracks, tapping into a sound from him that is rather unique to this project. Plus there are a few interludes handled by some local rising young producers at the time Medium Zach, Benzilla, and DJ Fu Man Chu. Despite the wide range of producers, I Selfis still very successful in assembling a very cohesive album. For example, in general I would say that Jake One and Vitamin D have a significantly different production sound than Ant, but here it all finds a common ground to effectively co-exist.

“This Is It” puts the direction of this album dead in your face soon as the opening drum rolls settle into a blistering cinematic worthy soundtrack. Mid-way thru the verse he spits, “Part gangster and revolutionary/I want change so bad, I refuse to carry/ Dead weight, reflect and get your head straight/Being still makes me sick so I agitate/Resistance all in my bloodline/Criminals, writers and poets that spiritual/Alcoholics and fiends and poly drug abusers/Learn to channel this anger, if not, it will confuse you!”

In the second verse he further allows the listener to “travel in (his) headspace” when he exclaims, “What I’m trying to say, I’m trying to get dollars/Scholars write for scholars, they know nada/Not a thing, talk, but then they speculate/But never in the shoes of those they emulate/Ear to the street like my neck’s on the curb/The pulse of the city’s so live like a nerve/Stepping to the hood, in the cut, not to sound good/Cause I’m needed here, it’s kind of heated here!”

“Get Cha Money On” is a nicely executed concept track, done in the style of Organized Konfusion’s “Stray Bullet” or Nas’s “I Gave You Power”. However, in the case we get to view the world thru the eyes of a dollar bill. Even the dollar bill is confused by the way people hold it in such high regard, “Fools be dying for me, the s**t’s crazy/Grown men crying for me, the s**t’s daily/Money ain’t the root of all evil, it’s people/When money and the power ain’t shared to equal/A lot of blood spilt, that’s how the country’s built/Sell your soul and feel little guilt/Some share and spread to the communities/Others tear down homes, causing agony/Robbery, casualty, poverty, destiny/Get a gang of me and switch up the scenery/Survival of the fittest, you love it/Cause the rules of the mutha f**kin government!”

Approximately halfway thru the album a sort of four-song concept takes place and slowly evolves. It starts with “Sex, Sex, Sex” which is fairly self-explanatory, as it champions the joys of physical pleasures, but there’s also an underlining theme of being aware of the complications and consequences that could ensue. Building from there, it is immediately followed by “Feel My Pain” which confronts the direct issues that can result from such actions, “I’mma tell you one thing that be hurting me/Seeing these young girls sitting in maternity/13 to 15 years of age/Young women, teenagers deal with so much rage…” It serves as a reminder to young girls that when unsafe sex leads to pregnancy a vast amount of time they are left to deal with it on their own. A bigger lesson being that exhibiting responsibility on the front-end can prevent the existence of greater aftereffects and larger amounts of responsibility later. Then “I Can’t Say Nothing Wrong” provides a general celebration of women who are holding their own weight and handling their business. This series comes to a close with “Love Song”, which focuses on a particularly personal relationship, that’s filled with an open floodgate of emotions, from bliss to turmoil.

“Ice Cold” is a hard-hitting banger provided by Jake One, with I Self Devine paying homage to a place he has long called home. Over the heavy stomping drums you are taken on a tour of the backstreets that many tend to overlook and/or keep on the hush when it comes to talking about the Twin Cities.

Per usual, I Self Devine keeps the guest features minimal and focused. The stand out guest appearances on the album come from Buddah Tye, who has been present on a few previous I Self Devine related projects. On “Live In The Movement” he paints a grim situation of living the street life, including the stresses of looking at “your” child and realizing he “ain’t got none of my features”. On “Actions” Buddah Tye takes a more punchline heavy approach that is reflective of how you may have heard him throwdown when he was knee deep in the Twin Cities battle scene around this same time.

I suppose I hinted at this already, but this album sounds significantly different than earlier I Selfprojects. In his bio for “Self Destruction” this section tackles that subject:

 “The difference betweenSelf Destruction and previous Micranots albums is that I Self takes the time and effort to connect to the masses instead of a select few scholars who already knew the deal. How he accomplished this was years of switching his approach, lyrically without damaging his integrity. In the majority of his releases, I Self never allowed the listener the opportunity to know him, feel his personality, his humor, his pain and accomplishments- the personal struggles and personal victories and losses of I Self Devine.”

 The sentiment is also covered in the introduction to that bio also:

"I have been terrified of success, as well as the responsibility associated with it. I have sabotaged myself, both consciously and subconsciously. I have immersed myself in the struggle not as a means to an end, but as a buffer…to never reach success. Only to fail, which justifies the struggle. This album was put together as therapy. To move on, knowing that I am deserving of success."- I Self Devine, Minneapolis, MN 2004

However, if you had been following I Self’s career then “Self Destruction” doesn’t sound like some sort of radical departure at all. But, if you were to find someone who was unfamiliar with his work and played them “Return Of The Travellahs” and then “Self Destruction”, it might take some closer listening to confirm it was the same MC. Yes, a lot can happen in ten years, particularly when you have an MC, such as I Self Devine, who has been firmly dedicated to injecting his politics, concerns, and passion for community in his music and all the while meeting resistance from all angles; government, peers, record industry, personal acquaintances, and so forth. Experiences such as that shall bring about a change in strategies, philosophies, and even lyrical approach. Only a few songs on this record capture the same sonic approach as his previous work.

I’ve used the word “anthem” to describe many songs thru out I Self’s career, because that is the most fitting word to describe these powerful statements his makes thru his music. For me, on “Self Destruction” that song is “Overthrow”. It successfully captures many facets of I Self Devine into a 4+ minute space. It’s also the song that is best suited to make the bridge between his previous releases to his new sound. In essence, “Overthrow” sounds like it would have been a perfect inclusion on a Semi Official follow up album. Ant constructs a great up-tempo beat built on a lesser known great high-energy main sample then sprinkles in a few dashes of some classics, courtesy Parliament-Funkadelic, Commodores, Jackie Robinson, James Brown an so on. I Self’s, as well as Ant’s, appreciation for the Old School is reflected by the use of the Sugarhill flavorings of The Sequence “Funk You Up” with their chant, “Get up, Get up, Get up Get up…”

With the mood thoroughly set in motion, I Self finds himself in rare form from the verses to the chorus, “We…came…here…to get up/Take…Over s**t and get buck/When you’re in a riot, pump this s**t up/When you’re getting over, pump this s**t up” and in the second half of the hook he also offer this song as your theme music when you are getting beat down…the rawness.

“Sunshine” is the official album closer and it mellows things out. I hadn’t really made a note of this, but that is apparently an I Self Devine trademark. All of his albums end with a more laid-back track, but without sacrificing the intensity of the lyrical content.

If you hang on for a bit of dead-air you are then treated to the Ant produced bonus cut, which gives what might be the most comprehensive breakdown about Hip Hop’s reclaiming of the infamous “N-Word”. He touches on the reasons to, as well as not to use it, as he says, “It’s just a big mess…”

If “Self Destruction” was the realization of I Self Devine ushering in a new era of how he made music, then his latest album, “The Sound Of Low Class Amerika” is the perfecting of that new formula. In the Micranots and even Semi Official years, I Self spoke heavily with hidden meanings and with use of encrypted messaging. On “Self Destruction” he speaks far more directly and to the point. “The Sound Of Low Class Amerika” showcases him finding a better balance between using creative wordplay, making concise points and flipping his own slanguage.

“The Sound Of Low Class Amerika” connects I Self Devine with many of the producers from “Self Destruction”; Vitamin D, Jake One, Medium Zach & Benzilla. It also connects him with some new names with like-minded production sensibilities; King Karnov, DJ Todda, & Proh Mic. In turn, creating a related soundscape without sounding to similar, but maintaining and at times surpassing the caliber. The legend is still growing and active…

Welcome to the present day history of I Self Devine via “The Sounds Of Low Class Amerika”!

Written and Compiled By Kevin Beacham

-“Self Destruction” Bonus Note from I Self Devine:

"There were two songs excluded from “Self Destruction” because someone else had (used) the beats. Jake One and Vitamin D used to hand out beats CD's back in the day and they would circulate. As a result of that, I've learned not to get connected to any beat until you’re sure it's yours. Case in point, the (excluded) songs “Innocent” and “Tell me what they hitting for?” went to John Cena the wrestler and Dela Soul."

-"The Sounds Of Low Class Amerika": This is a scan of some original notes I Self had when 1st starting to put this album together!!

-I Self Devine Photo By Skye Rossi "Infinite Ruggedness":


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