by: Rahul Reddy
2004 was a break out year for a lot of artists. Masta Killa finally dropped his solo album, Kanye released his 10 time grammy nominated "College Dropout," and hell, even Mase came back to break through once more. However, underneath most of mainstream's radar, a Portland MC by the name of Braille dropped one of the sickest LP’s of the whole year. Braille is a member of Lightheaded, and he comes through solo with Shades of Grey. This LP isn't Braille's first LP recorded, but is definitely a break out record for the emcee. I wasn't familiar with Braille's music until I listened to this album, and the production, lyrics, and concepts around the album make it one of the hottest albums of 2004.
The album starts off on a Kno (of Cunninlynguists) produced banger, "Right this Moment." The opera sample of a woman singing sends mad chills down various spines. Braille comes through with mad intensity, rhyming about the possibilities of the moment, whether good or bad. "Guns don’t kill rock stars, they only kill emcees" (that's mad true by the way). Braille also gets nasty lyrically on "It Won't Last." Braille spits with a fury with a flurry of rhymes. His verse on this track shows that Braille’s got a flow that shouldn’t be tested. Although I thought the beat got redundant after a few listens, the album as a whole has amazing production.
Braille's keen ear for production is apparent; a producer named Tony Stone shows up for 6 tracks, and honestly has the hottest beats on the album. That's a huge compliment for Tony, seeing as how producers like 9th Wonder, Celph Titled, and Kno dropped beats for Shades of Grey. "Hip-Hop Music" is a dope tribute to the music we all love, as the scratch filled chorus proclaims there ain't nothing like Hip-Hop music. This is some of that feel good shit. Stone also gets ridiculous on "Keep On" with a hard hitting beat with solid, uplifting rhymes from Braille. "Soul Rock" is the banger on the record. The boys of Lightheaded and Sharlock Poems get nasty on the banging production of this record. I can only imagine how wild this track must be in concert, my hands were practically lifting themselves up and down on this joint. Braille is not to be outshined by his production, every track he drops has a purpose. The title track "Shades of Grey," my favorite lyrically, definitely shows the listener what Braille is capable of.
It might sound like I'm giving this album a perfect rating, I wasn't feeling joints like "Nobody" and "Microphone Rush" as compared to other gems like "Hip-Hop Music" and "Shades of Grey." I'm not saying they are whack, but probably due to the regression effect the joints aren't as dope. 9th Wonder I think came a bit lackluster with "10 years," but it is by no means horrible. The album's strong points far outweigh songs that don't bang as hard.
Overall, this album deserves a listen from all hip-hop heads out there. It's got something for every type of hip-hop listener. Whether you listen for introspective, uplifting lyrics, banging beats, or passion, Braille's got something for you. I can see the biggest backpacker bumping this alongside a suburban girl who might not even know who KRS-1 is. That's a huge compliment for Braille who brought a dope album with production that's smoother than a baby's behind. Shades of Grey refers to Braille's belief that most of the confusion in the world comes from within the "grey areas." As Braille puts it himself in the album insert "The confusion, doubt and unanswered questions of life lead to much pain and many bad decisions." I'll tell you something that’s not so confusing, if Braille continues to drop ridiculously solid albums like this, this kid is in for a bright future.