Written By: Andrew Sedo
The second collaborative entry from French Hip-Hop producer Creestal, starts with lofty ambitions. The opening interlude features a sample that repeats, “I wanted to change the world / I wanted to change the world” with a forlorn attitude that intimates a reality long since passed. The second track seems to accept this intransigence with the looped refrain, “The World, the world, / The world ain’t no different, now.” This seems to be the mission of the Marseille man’s record. It’s a throwback to old school cypher MC era of mix and match vinyl DJ’s. Judging on pure technique, Creestal would fit in this alternative past. His ear for loops and forming unique combinations is evident throughout the entire project. Unlike those that survive on pure nostalgia, Creestal frankensteins his way to a level that transcends traditional entries to the genre.
On “I’ve Seen” he combines a classic cautionary tale of the realities of life on the street with a warped xylophone track, and a beautifully rapid sax riff manipulated to near sci-fi perfection. The backing bongo baseline ties it exquisitely back to the basics. The following cut, Differences’ standout, “Bars of Death” is a taste in street rap’s roots in bully braggadocio. As credentialed rappers Ras Kass, Rapper Big Pooh, and Skyzoo hand the mic back and forth, the listener is forced into a steady head bob. Again, Creestal takes the sampled guitar to a whiny pitch that makes the track unique beyond a classic battle tune. As the album continues, his knack for twisting guitar sounds, scratching, and choosing vocal samples, keeps echoing back to an unattainable standard. It’s as if he’s trying to morph reminiscent hip-hop culture from the inside. Heavy guitar and malleable synths are no longer off limits, but in fact, seamlessly intertwined.
Samples and guests’ lyrics range from aggressively philosophical to not quite cliche. As sojourner Blu says on the soulful groove, “Goin Down” “I ain’t trying to be the best / I’m trying to do me.”
We begin to see the flaws in the record as a whole. Differences is a showcase for individual talent, but never coalesces to be greater than the sum of its samples. Creestal and friends perform more than admirably, but there’s an undercurrent of uncertainty. It’s as if you can’t escape the feeling that someone has already made this album before, but better.
This may be the problem with creating music so heavily reliant on recreating a forgone conclusion. Classic cypher sample hip-hop continues to thrive on worthy ingredients: tight production, interesting amalgams of lyrical styles, unusual instrumental combinations, and an earned reminiscence. However, as is the case with Differences, the catch 22 is that with each superior entry we have to wonder, “is this really necessary?” Creestal seems to be well aware of this fact, as he constantly, alludes to his place on the razor thin edge between pushing the envelope and paying homage. Suffice it to say he stays put firmly on the blade. By the end, the listener has to consider whether the title, Differences, is an oxymoronic wink or a falsely prophetic shout. The sad fact is the differences are too subtle to be discovered by anyone but a prior devotees. This record loops itself into the contradiction of trying to make a new classic. However, it’s engineered well enough for fans to appreciate and outsiders to consider the possibility of a future, one that’s not simply a reminder of the past.