Under the Basement: Paradox – Called to Mind
Under the Basement is our newest feature that will profile largely overlooked artists we think deserve a second look. The only criteria for consideration is that you have less than 10,000 friends on your MySpace page. If you would like to be considered for future segments — or just want us to listen to your music — please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I started underground and then I fell through the basement” –Louis Logic
The first installment of Under the Basement is an MC from Texas that goes by the name of Paradox. A paradox is defined as, “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth,” (dictionary.com). To get a better understanding of the artist, I am going to break down the profile into four separate sections; I will first discuss the man known as Paradox and then analyze the album Called To Mind (Oct, 2008) in terms of flow, lyrics and production.
Paradox, or Matthew, is not what you would think of when you try to characterize a rapper in today’s music scene. He is a high school Theology teacher by day, a husband and soon-to-be father with a Master’s in Education, working toward a second Master’s in Theology (that’s the study of God).
Born in Dallas and raised in Denver by a single mother, having never met his biological father, Paradox’s stage-name stems from the huge amount of accomplishments he achieves despite the circumstances in which he was raised. Being kicked out of middle school didn’t stop Paradox from going on to volunteer and teach in a last-chance girl’s high school in Belize City. After that, going on to become a high school teacher with such a high level of education is definitely ironic and paradoxical for someone whose education seemingly came to an end before high school.
Paradox started his career as an MC with a group from Denver called 49Stories. They released one album on the now-defunct Voicebox Records titled “Blind Faith” and then Paradox released a solo record titled “Hiatus” on the same label that was written mostly during his stay in Belize.
Paradox is an MC that sees hip-hop as a vehicle for social change and hopes to utilize it to the full of his abilities to get his messages across to listeners. He released “Called to Mind” in October 2008 on End of Earth Records as his second solo album. Let’s check it out.
Paradox’s delivery may first strike you as comical, and rightfully so, his rap-voice has the sort of nasally high-pitched characteristics that are hard to take seriously and easy to chuckle at. Your initial impression may be that you’re listening to an overzealous documentary narrator reciting rap lyrics from a teleprompter with no notion of what they’re actually saying. Bare with me when I say that this is truly one of those times when that don’t judge a book thing comes in handy.
The first real “paradox” about this MC is that someone with a delivery that seems laughable on the surface can deliver some of the most profound lyrical content in hip-hop — it’s true.
The second thing that you’ll notice is that Paradox’s flow is unique, his rhyme structure is a complex set of multi-syllabic and internal rhymes slathered in a thick coating of wordplay. Rhymes come frequently and pass with ease as if Paradox is just speaking, not even rapping, and continuously stumbles over poetic verses unexpectedly. It’s quick and punchy in a sense, like snatching rhyming syllables off a shelf in rapid succession.
This is the sort of content-heavy and rhyme-dense hip-hop that doesn’t bide well for lazy listeners. It takes a lot of active listening to take in the true content of these tracks, but when you get it, it’s a cool connection like realizing that your favorite rock has been a geode the entire time. First time listeners can look to the production and the guest artists for context clues as to the demeanor of the track that is rarely emoted by Paradox himself, and the extra effort is worth grasping the depth of Paradox’s work.
As promised earlier, the lyrics of Paradox’s songs are a strong suit — like a suit of armor. Paradox prances about rhythmically discussing many important topics, including his own life story and social issues run a-muck. The second track, “Broken”, paints a picture, inventively, of his childhood, complete with an anecdotal description of the one-night stand that led to his own conception. As the song progresses more male figures enter and exit the life of the young MC, but surprisingly in the end a short bridge proceeds to thank these unnamed un-fathers for their contribution to his character. This sort of (seemingly) sincere thank you in response to a parental cold shoulder is exactly the unexpected and outside-of-the-box music that creeps from within “Called to Mind”.
Other songs, such as “Let Your Life Speak,” give uplifting advice, discussing the importance of actions over words. “A pictures worth a thousand words because it captures action / But I’d rather gather ’round the person when in fact it happens,” rhymes Paradox. His style of inviting personal reflection is beckoning, and it’s easy to get caught up in the words once you settle into the rhythm of the rhyming.
An acappella verse about death, God and writing one’s own eulogy prefaces “Ruined for Life”, an excellent track about life’s choices and navigating your destiny, offering the questions, “What would you like for them to say when you’re gone? / What would you change if you could right your wrongs?”
Again, keep in mind as you fall into the lyrical depth of this album that your first impression was probably that this was another throw-away MC, and would have been sadly mistaken to classify Paradox without giving his music the chance it deserves. His uniqueness can be offputting to listeners used to more formulaic rap styles, but this is the good sort of different.
The best track from this album, in my opinion, is called “Put ’em Together”, and as you may have guessed from the title it’s a song that involves a lot of clapping — but there’s an overwhelming difference between this and say Busta Rhyme’s “Make it Clap.” There are no ass cheeks or booties about this, instead a genius metaphorical piece about being true to oneself. The song starts with a dedication of sorts, “This is for everyone who’s life is either partially or entirely comprised or conflicts or contradictions including me, so aptly named.”
A catchy church-esque chant of, “Clap ya hands, just clap ya hands now,” precedes the first verse, which goes on to detail the story of a man who shows, “one person to [his] wife and another with crew / and a third reciting words behind a mic in the booth.” Other paradoxical situations are flowed-about throughout the track including people that badmouth politicians while failing to vote and women who complain about abuse but refuse to take a stand. The chorus brings things together (literally) when it goes back into the familiar, “Clap ya hands,” and transitions into, “On the one hand’s the true you for real / On the other hand’s the you, you choose to reveal / When the two move together it’s a beautiful deal / A hand clap and that’s how you know it should feel.”
And clap. A marriage between a euphemism and a metaphor into a perfect package, this track works flawlessly (if you don’t get it, he’s saying to bring the real you and the person you show to others together — figuratively through the action of clapping). This is a seriously creative and well thought out track that highlights the lyrical and mental capacities of Paradox as an MC and as a person.
This disc was mostly produced by Elliot B. who has worked with a lot of well known artists such as 2Mex and Eyedea. The production is on point, full of simple classic loops and snappy drum breaks that mesh well with Paradox’s wavy delivery. “Hard Rock” and “Seeds” were produced by Beat Rabbi of Deepspace5, and again, production is top notch. Well orchestrated synths, strings, and brasses play nicely with the snares and kicks. One of the strongest pieces of work on the production include the scratches — which were contributed by an assortment of DJs — throughout the disc. The scratch-interludes play excellently into the rhythm of the album and add the hip-hop flavor that’s needed to put the entire record in the next level.
This album is brought to you by a different type of MC; A teacher and scholar that also drops rhymes is sort of like a fairytale for a lot of high-schoolers. And similarly, an MC that’s a compelling wordsmith with persistently complex delivery laying socially conscious, kind-spirited bars on top of Ant-like (of Atmosphere) melodies is the sort of Holy Grail that many hip-hop conneseiours actively search for. Please take the time to check out this album, you will not be disappointed.
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