Bar Exam: Nomis – Rhodes To Rome (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
It was a privilege to interview the homie Nomis a few weeks ago and talk about what the last couple years of his life has been like. In some ways he’s had to reinvent himself. Finding time to create while also finding ways to provide for his growing family has become a priority for the producer/emcee. His newest project, “Rhodes To Rome” is the product of his hard work and sweat during this new period of growth. I’m beyond excited to hear what he’s been cooking up.
The album starts off with “A Million to One.” We’re gonna hear a lot of Rhodes on this album. It starts out with that sound, some brass gets layered in and Nomis brings some multi syllable lines over the top. It’s really relaxed, but there’s some deep vocal doubling that comes in to bring out intensity in what he says.
“I celebrate us/let’s celebrate all parts of our cultures for every part of our life/part of my mic/I’m blessed to live in a country with these freedoms/but I only pledge allegiance to my God and my wife”
The challenge here is to love God and love people. Nomis kicks off this album with unprecedented style. Instead of ease us into a certain concept, he rips the bandaid off and exposes his heart from the get go. There’s intentionality oozing from every bar, and the music bed is magnificent.
Agape – That old school Bone Thugs/Eazy-E/Yomo & Maulkie sample here at the top. “For the Love of Money” is chopped up over a less-than-intuitive instrumental. My mind is boggled trying to follow how Nomis’ flow fits over this music that has emphasis on beat three. It almost plays like it’s in 6/8, but what Nomis is doing with it is effortless and very impressive. Topically he’s covering issues of racial discrimination and encouraging the listener to be full of compassion. There’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek thing here though, touching on hypocrisy because “For the Love of Money” is played at quite opportune times, reminding us that money drives decisions of a lot of people in today’s culture.
So far in the first two tracks Nomis has given us the challenge to move in love and compassion to those around us. Love God, love people seems to be the theme being dealt with so far. The instrumentals are clean, impeccably produced, but laid back and given room to grow.
There’s a little bass solo before we get into the vocals on “Act Of Love.” Nomis bringing the melodies here at the top. The music is a little busy, it hasn’t quite locked in while he’s introducing this vibe at the top. There we go… it all fizzles out and the layers disappear to bring us to a pretty stark and simple feel. Fingers snapping over the Rhodes and Nom is listing things he’s reminded of. A nostalgic moment for him, sharing about cyphers, other emcees, time at the Oceanside pier, watching friends get baptized. After the next hook, the beat picks up. “One act of love is worth a thousand words of rap” Eventually the tempo picks up, with the live drum set feel. Nomis rolls over it nonchalantly with a story about trying to give a homeless person his shoes. The tempo is back to where it was at the beginning of the track. I’m not sure I can remember a hip-hop track recently where the tempo switched like this. Very dope.
Theory of Self – The instrumental on this one isn’t your typical hip-hop copied and pasted sample, it sounds like a Rhodes solo over intricate percussion textures. Nomis is also out of the box on his flow. He seems like an artist that’s always pushing himself to something better. He could’ve rolled with a typical flow here, but in just the right spots he chooses to slow up for emphasis, or hit a certain pitch with his voice at the end of a line. It’s very cool to hear. It’s also hard to not take note of the sample use. There’s some vocal sample thrown in on this hook, and at the top of Joe Ayinde’s verse you hear that famous Isley Brother’s Sample from “Between The Sheets.” (Notorious B.I.G. “Big Poppa”) This track deals with thoughts of greed, selfish indulgence, and acting out our own insecurities. It’s a fabulously constructed tune.
“Siren Song” sounds like cruising the open highway on a summer’s night. The saxophone samples layered with the incredible Rhodes atmosphere is so appealing to the ear. Nomis comes at it with a fast paced introspective flow. He’s great at alluding to the culture to keep attention. Throughout the project I’m catching super hero references, star wars, etc. But he’s also unpacking some baggage for us. The church treats him like an outcast because of his views. HOLY SMOKES… the beat switches up and it’s like we’re in an arena listening to Nomis bust over an “Until I Collapse” type beat. BONKERS. He digs in with his vocals and passion is oozing from every word.
The next tune, “Foreshadow,” plays like an interlude. Nomis shares a simple hook, and a few lines of a verse are shared but stopped short.
Creative Production Choices
One thing I notice is Nomis’ choice to continue to follow rhyme schemes in order display his writing. The way he continues to roll off multiple rhymes in a row can lead us down a few rabbit trails conceptually. For the most part I’m able to follow what he’s doing, but it’s almost like sometimes he gets giddy when he realizes how far he can take a rhyme pattern and so he just does it anyway. This fits along with the production style, because both keep you guessing, eager for the next turn, and the treats waiting just around the corner. Some of these ideas can get disjointed – like I’m trying to figure out why the choice was made to throw in that “big poppa” sample. That sample is so evocative and memorable it almost distracts. It didn’t seem like it added much to the song, but at this point I’m not sure it hindered it. I’d say my initial response to decisions like these is “just because you CAN doesn’t always mean you SHOULD.”
The Rhodes and some finger snapping bring us in at the top of “Evolve.” Nomis starts out talking about surviving in the hip-hop culture and not being a big name. It’s important to stay grounded and acknowledge where you’re from. The track has a really laid back feel to it. Even his swagger on this flow is chilled. Ralph Quasar jumps in on the second verse.
“They try to put you in a box where you can’t move/am I a recreative being or shamu?/or a complicated name that the kids can never say so I dumb it down to something they can handle/and say we ain’t getting paid to take any advice so thanks for saying but we’ve got it handled/every jazz man got the blues and hip-hop gets confused when they continue to sue us for our samples”
It’s an uplifting and encouraging song for creatives. You have to grow beyond what you know now or you become dated.
Nomis has some singing chops. His voice has lended a lot of melodies throughout this project. I really dig it. On “Chapters” he brings in a little intro and then moves into a pause heavy flow on this first verse that is aided by the production around it. “Our story ain’t done/time to write a new chapter.” Similar to the subject matter of the previous song, the direction of the focus is on the idea that the best is yet to come. He takes the concept a step deeper and puts flesh on it, talks about human trafficking, racism, abuse. The saga continues…
Not A Bar Wasted
The title track is next. “Rhodes To Rome” has a live performance feel to the instrumental. “Dr King suffered the same fate as Osama Bin Laden what kinda karma is that?” The topic of discussion here is that a life lived by faith is a life lived in abundance. There’s a lot of perseverance and persistence needed. This applies to your personal lives, but also speaks to artists and creatives due to the fact that there’s always comparison in every circle and tribe. Nomis goes off about this on the third verse.
“Today you took another L/Well live in that hell/Swim in that dive deep/Immersed to the depth till your eyes meet your revelation/Disguised in betrayal and pain/My teeth grit and I eat what’s been then spit/But the gems I keep/Cuz blessed is the one who’s sins the Lord will never count against them/N.I.V.”
“When I speak I’ll truth you/With no plans to youtube ‘guru’ or ‘five step programs’/They lie cuz they know the needs of the followers/Is to follow their steps with total ease/To benefit masses is a generous mask for you to see to make you believe they hold the keys/Since we brought it up/I rebuke the falsehood that if you isn’t popping now then you ain’t working hard enough”
His inflections at certain points of his lines make parts of those fit together even better than when you read them. He’s also got a knack for changing the intensity of the song by switching up the beat at important spots. This keeps the ball rolling downhill as you consume the music, and I really appreciate his intentionality to not waste a single bar of music or words.
“My Two Sense” is only two minutes long. There’s a soul singer behind his performance on this. Once again it sounds like a live band working alongside of Nomis. It’s another 6/8 time signature, and it’s dope. This one is just rhymes galore.
The final song is entitled “Heart Headed.” It begins with a simple drum beat. East Coast influence here. Piano keys layer in. There’s distorted vocals upon the introduction to the hook. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown/Ready is the head who never needed it” Some masterful scratching here and it feels fantastic. Sintax drops the first flow here over a relaxed instrumental that pulled back a bit for him to bring his verse. As Nomis chimes in, the beat picks up. It’s dope. This is a great track to leave us with. Definitely one to return to later.
Nomis is a heavily slept on artist who’s work is full of inspiring qualities. What I found here on “Rhodes To Rome,” is someone who isn’t scared to break from expectations. He took some risks in a few places that I think paid off. Earlier I talked about how the thought “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” came to mind. I feel like he was self aware of what he was doing though. He showed off his talents in tasteful ways, and once he brings you in he’s able to dig beyond the surface. Sometimes creative decisions that are made become like an agreement of trust between the artist and the listener. Once you’ve made the agreement with Nomis, he’s able to take you on a sonically diverse and exciting journey that you probably wouldn’t have been ready for prior. All that to say that “Rhodes to Rome” is very a dense and captivating work. Nomis is not only a gifted talent, but he’s an artist you should trust.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar