Bar Exam: Ruslan & Paul Russel – Via Text (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
What a year it’s been for Ruslan and the team at Kings Dream Entertainment. Ruslan is one of my favorite social media follows, and seems to be a genuine person who cares about pushing others to be and do better. If you don’t follow his youtube channel you are missing out. Anyway, Ruslan has already taken a #BarExam and passed with flying colors in the first quarter. This time around he’s teamed up with the newly signed Paul Russel. Is “Via Text” just another album, or do we have something special in the mix? Time to find out.
“Friends” begins with some ballpark organs, we’re ready for some peanuts and Cracker Jack. Paul Russel is leading off here, and without any true form to his raps, he seems to just take off. Paul talks about his yearning for human connection, a wife, a dog, and as this verse trudges on it also gains some momentum. Paul Russel gets into a melodic hook challenging the listener to keep it real. There’s finally a beat that adds some texture here, and a catchy vibe that grabs your attention just as Ruslan spits his verse. It’s a pause-heavy verse, and throughout this track both artists are great at keeping tension. The beat isn’t much to work with here, it’s more of an interlude than the slow burning intro it’s placed here to be. The tension is great though. I talk a lot about intentionality on Ruslan’s “Indie Jones II” project, and I really think both of these guys know they don’t need to spend all of their energy on an opening track. This tune here is more to wet the listener’s appetite for what’s to come, and they did just that.
As we roll into track two, “Breeze,” Paul Russel introduces an easy hook with a smooth vibe. Ruslan pops off some nice bars and some wordplay in verse one.
“Some of these conversations I swear that they be so odd/Ask if I’m a minister/I tell em that’s my home squad/Meaning that’s my home job/Meaning that I’m home first/Yes I own my own job/I know that makes your soul hurt/Ain’t been to a home church/But I feel like my home’s church/Showed up to my church yo I guess they do they homework/Look, I could not be covert/God He did it all /Reset me/Whole and made my soul work”
The beat here is open and is pretty much just kick and snare with a sample on loop throughout. These two artists body it well, and honestly this stuff would sound just as good a cappella.
“The Get Back” has some boom bap to it once again, but with some piano keys tucked in nicely in the background. Jon Keith stops by for this one. The vibe here is quintessential West Coast, and it’s off the chain.
So far there’s a simplicity to each of these beats, and it’s refreshing. In the case of “Via Text” I’d say less is more. There’s appealing and refreshing sound going on here. No one person is trying to do too much, and they’re comfortable in their own skin rather than relying on over-produced music for the awe-factor. The awe is in the bars.
The next tune, “Meet Me Outside” sounds like it could have been inspired by that Cash Me Ousside meme. The two emcees appear to be having fun on this one. Most notably, Paul kicks it off with the first verse. He flips his flow back and forth from melody laden to triplets, and it’s really nice.
Moving on, “Better Or Worst” has that singing vibe to it. Not so much mumble rap, but toeing the line I’d say. It’s an easy listen. The way the guitars pulsate on the off-beats gives it almost an island feel. There’s some really nice textures added to this instrumental that help enhance Paul’s performance here. Half way through this, Ruslan’s voice comes over the top and the entire mood switches up. Ruslan amps it up with some distorted and doubled vocals for only a few brief moments before he hands the original vibe back to Paul. That’s a good one to keep the listener awake.
“I got a few things/If you need a dollar bill in your blue jeans/I’mma throw it to you honey like I’m Drew Brees/I’m just happy that my crib got two sinks/Cuz that’s a whole lot more than what I do need”
“For The Money” starts out with what could have easily been turned into a hook, but morphs into a punchline driven, name dropping flow from Paul Russel. The music bed here has a fast paced jazzy piano loop that phases in and out. There’s a point before the actual hook where the bass line begins to glitch out. It’s a cool effect, and then Ruslan’s charisma all over his verse is fantastic. This is a track that begs repeating.
The title track is up next. “Via Text” has a couple layers of synths and once again another simple but original beat piles in. The concept seems to be that we all try to hide who we are from those we love most. It may not be that deep, but the subject of the song seems to be needing some accountability and may have made some recent mistakes. I think that tattoos could be a euphemism for the secrets we hold dear that can often still be in plain sight.
Rhodes wash over the top of “Cheap Cologne.” Paul Russel introduces a melody right away but then everything that was just set up disappears. Now Ruslan is spitting fire over an uptempo rhythm. This one seems to be for the ladies.
“They try to make sense of it/Thinking maybe I’m insensitive/Off the top with the penmanship/Multi rapper it’s a membership/And if your bars ain’t hitting/And your lady ain’t wit it/There’s no need to pretend you it”
We get out of a somewhat tender moment about “how love goes,” and roll into a more low-energy vibe. The name of this song is “Cool Carbon.” There’s a lot of room here once again, with panning keeping certain pieces out of the middle of the mix. There’s a really nice electric guitar laid in there, and the flow here is pretty introspective. I really feel like the energy of the project took a nosedive here. It doesn’t take away from the creativity and all that Paul and Ru are bringing here, but I am finding it hard to focus at this point.
We wrap up the project with the song “For Them.” There’s a lonely guitar chunking along (Kerry ‘2 Smooth’ Marshall) as Paul drops his first verse. I also see that BreeKay and Kasairi are featured on this song. I’m not familiar with their music really, but I heard their Andy Mineo cover the other day. This girl is absolutely wailing on the Chorus. The entire project closes out with a TLC vibe, and I’m not mad about it.
To conclude, this was definitely another enjoyable listen from Ruslan. Paul Russel has some supreme talent, and these two work well together. However, I felt like this whole piece was fighting to get every part moving in the same direction. There were similarities in a few themes, and the production style was congruent throughout, but some of these songs lacked momentum. There are certainly some bangers and tracks that will be heavily repeated here, but all in all I find this project to be “At The Bar.”
Overall Rating: At The Bar