Bar Exam: Sareem Poems & Ess Be – Mind Over Matter (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
Sareem (fka Sharlock) Poems (aka Solo Brooks) just released his second collaboration with Ess Be, entitled “Mind Over Matter.” If it’s anything like what we’ve heard from them before, with equal parts fresh yet familiar boom bap and bars chock full of lyricism… we’re in for a treat.
[For the people asking what my format is for my first listen: I keep an intricate spreadsheet where I check boxes and keep notes as I roll through the album. I don’t have any rules really, I pause if I need to and I take breaks if I need to. Adding a set of rules to my listening experience doesn’t sound fun…]
The first song, “Simply Truthfully” begins with a club beat that has deep and buzzy bass. Sareem comes in on a solid quarter note beat. As intricate as the intro was, it settles down once his vocal is added. Sareem Poems brings some bars about self indulgence and numbing the pain of life. “I know I can’t be everything that I wanna be/So I embrace how God has created me/I’m happy with just being be simply truthfully”
The next song is called “Maze.” The instrumental here is quite busy. Sareem speaks with authority on this track though. His inflections are unique on the hook, adding some flare and charisma to captivate the listener. As the song moves on, the musical theme stays consistent but some subtle noises are added so as to change the textures and amplify the performance. The flow is quite rapid fire, and doesn’t give any breaths as he continues to pontificate thoughts on the maze of life.
On “Way Up There,” Sean C. Johnson comes in with a hook right away, the beat knocks unexpectedly in the middle of the singing and I’m awestruck. The music is intricate and the handoff from these chill hooks to the insane feel of the verses is bonkers. “I’m sky high/Ain’t on drugs/Sober with a major buzz” Just when you think you’re getting a slower paced flow, he switches it halfway through the verse and spits heavy bars to get us back to Sean C. Johnson again. This song was well constructed and kept me guessing the whole way.
“Shallow” begins with an instrumental that seems like it belongs in a horror flick. The hook is introduced straight away “High-low, high-low, high-low, high-low, up and down we all go” and is reminiscent of “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Don’t get it twisted though, it’s not an elementary track. This one is for grown ups.
“I disbelieve half what I hear and see/cuz everything packed is too slick for me/I don’t know you/I take your words with a grain of salt/anything you show me I’m giving serious thought”
The feature on this track is a surprise. Mello Music’s emcee “Finale,” the underground rapper from Detroit comes by for his thoughts on how shallow our culture can be and it’s real nice.
To begin “Dance For The Dead” synths/horns begin an intense instrumental with a moving bass line. Sareem jumps in with lines about how he feels. Another song using anaphora – the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of each line. He’s fighting a war he can’t hide from.
“Say Hallelujah amen/I stand before you ay man/fighting hate fighting war fighting fear fighting hurt fighting devils with the church”
We’ve gotta dance until we get this right. It’s a challenge to fight for change in our world. There’s a lot of injustice and brokenness in our world. Sareem is issuing a challenge for us to get it right. The beat morphs into an upbeat dance track. The juxtaposition of the heavy topic with the hopeful music is beautiful. It goes without saying that we can bring beauty out of our brokenness.
That outro of “Dance For The Dead” gives you some room to ponder the words spoken in the track. And by the time song 6 rolls in, “The Way It Goes,” Sareem is on top of you with more lyricism.
“I put that on me/ You ain’t gotta be what they want you to be/Belong to nobody ain’t no chains on we/Ain’t got no slave master homie we was born free/Right there where we gon’ be planted like a tree/No lollipop kids here stay sucker free/Keep the wrote jokes for your piñata ain’t me/Stay poking at the hive you gon’ catch that killa bee/Until they get stung some people won’t see”
He comes at the progressing beat with the tenacity of Busta Rhymes and rips up the track unlike he’s done previously on this project. It’s on fire. Al Singleton croons over the Chorus, and this instrumental is just nasty. Sareem has a knack for taking heavy concepts and making them palatable for the listener. There’s a theme here that deals with hypocrisy and trying to do whatever you want with your life. If you keep down that road you’re gonna lose your soul. I’m absolutely mesmerized by the music on this one. This is a remarkable tune, way above the bar.
The next track is called “Eyedentity” and it begins by asking the question of when you look in the mirror, what do you see? Sareem begins this one with a melody which is splendidly appealing, and has a pop music bend to it. “Embrace being the you and of a different hue/let no one’s view define you.” Ess Be’s decisions to change the atmosphere on each song is masterful. Each bed he lays and the way he amplifies the performance with how subtly he changes up the sound of each section creates waves of emotional response.
Music Evokes Emotion
“I See You” begins with a spoken word over some galactic/space inspired synth layers. Conceptually, Sareem is speaking on his confidence in God. It’s a faith-filled song. Actually, this song is completely a spoken word poem. It’s got more structure to it than most spoken words, and the direction here is arrow-sharp. The kick drum is the most crucial part of this instrumental, that adds and takes away a feeling of anticipation as it ebbs and flows within the song.
That last number was a great change from the rest of the project. It shows the artist’s willingness to think outside of the box, and not necessarily give the listener precisely what they want. If the album was a complete work full of performances like that it may lose the listener, but for me I was all in on the idea, and I thought it was executed at a tremendous level.
“I See You” hands the baton well to the next tune, “What’s Wrong.” There’s some introspection directly at the top of this one. Sareem shares a bit of his heart in what appears to be a sinners prayer.
“Dear Lord, I’m a sinner/Please forgive me/Come into my life and cleanse me from my unbelief/I believe in You and in salvation through the blood of Jesus/I turn from sin and trust on Jesus alone as my Savior/In Jesus name I pray. Amen.”
I could see this being a last minute add. I love fluidity in an album and decisions like this can keep the slump time at a minimum. The melancholy of the previous track might not have flowed too well into the deep intensity of this one. Right after that prayer the beat drops and picks up the pace. Sareem comes at us with the concept of an eye for an eye, coping with the world around you. He’s very in tune with the culture of the streets, and the question that is posed is “What’s Wrong.” Dre Murray stops by for an incredible verse. Sharing from first-person perspective about the failures of our society. As usual, his wordplay is above the bar as is his ability to share the passion in his heart. This last verse from Adan Bean is terrific as well. It’s time to wake up and instead of asking “what’s wrong?,” let’s go be part of the solution. Now… this song is indeed five minutes and thirty seconds long, but every bar is intentionally placed, and the challenge is much needed. This is a great way to navigate a typically shaggy song.
“I’m Alright” has some buzzing synths in the forefront of the soundscape. Sareem keeps his pen game on point and shares how he makes mistakes, but he’s blessed and he knows he’s on the right path. This is him looking back at his life and how God’s hand has been on him the whole way. He’s thankful for where he’s at in his life. He’s happier than he’s ever been. This is a great place to be. Thank you Sareem for your testimony.
We close out this project with a huge bass line and big kick drums that BANG. “Until We Meet Again” is an instrumental that leaves you yearning for more from this group.
Until today, “Black and Read All Over” was my favorite project with Sareem Poems as the emcee. It may take awhile for “Mind Over Manner” to marinate, but I could see this one replacing the former project on the top of my list. I enjoy intentionality not only in writing but in musicality and creative direction, and this album has it all. There might have been some slower parts in the first half of the project, but over all it’s above the bar.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar