Armor Of God
The first three minutes of Armor of God contain no rapping from Vakill. I’d suggest that you utilize that time to pop some heart medication because from that moment on you are about to endure a barrage of cold-hearted, vitriolic, and street-savvy lyricism that may cause serious cardiac complications. There is a reason why this oft-delayed album has been my most anticipated release of the year for the last half-decade; Vakill is truly unparalleled on the microphone.
The difference between the Chicago-born MC and all competitors is not that he is the most unique or “out there” in terms of style, content, or song making. Instead, he takes the basic elements of emceeing and performs them impeccably. His arsenal of skills is fully stocked: nimble flow, sidesplitting punchlines, insightful commentary, vivid depictions of street life, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, and creative storytelling. There is no category that he is anything less than preternaturally gifted in; no, if you pardon the predictable pun, chinks in his armor. While many MCs may boast about not having to write anything down, Vakill is the irrefutable proof that taking time to meticulously handcraft raps creates a finished product that is far more memorable.
From start to finish, there is not a single moment when Vakill lyrically takes his foot off the gas pedal. Though he’s clearly adroit at tackling any topic, Vakill is at his best when he’s proving that, bar-for-bar, he is one of the most skilled wordsmiths in hip hop. Whether he’s claiming that “this is I, fill in the blank: Lord and Master, bitch, I’m Self centered” on the album’s title track or threatening to “EA curse the Source covers” on “Appetite to Kill”, its clear that Vakill is in full take-no-prisoners mode on this album. The latter track epitomizes what makes Vakill such a phenomenal and rare MC; very few rappers can make a four-minute song sans chorus that makes you want to instantly hit the rewind button (I nearly fell out of my chair around two minutes in when he says, “In Chi you got options/Either all is well for a G, spit bars, or sell you a ki/My diction is like Satan’s crucifixion; I got being a beast nailed to the T”). By the time he reaches the last track, “Proof,” and is still in full boastful mode with lines like, “Sick with the pen stroke, kinfolk, please don’t invoke/I go hard ‘til bone through the skin poke/The best punchlines the ones they don’t see commin’, catch the end joke/9 months when your bitch’s water been broke,” its nearly irrefutable that he deserves to be mentioned amongst the lyrical elites.
Of course, it would be a disservice to Vakill to depict him as a purely punchline-oriented battle rapper; he’s in reality a much more multi-faceted MC than that. “The Apology” is a creative song of repentance dedicated to the streets in which Vakill, embodying an aging, former gang leader, reflects back upon the violence and anguish he brought upon his community. One of Vakill’s most underappreciated strengths is his story-telling, as fans familiar with previous tracks such as “Fallen” and “Acts of Vengeance” can quickly attest to, a gift he showcases on the chilling “Sick Cinema”. He is also masterful at describing his home city in incredible detail, presenting both the good and the bad of inner city Chicago life with unflinching realism and with intelligent analysis as seen on songs such as “Endless Road”. What’s especially impressive here is not just that Vakill can touch upon such a variety of topics, but that he can do it while maintaining staggering rhyme patterns and without sacrificing his acerbic wit or intensity.
Since it is a given that his bars will be of the utmost impressiveness, the only trepidation that fans may have going into Armor of God is that if the beats are of equal caliber to the verses. The extremely talented Jake One produces the aforementioned “Armor of God” and “Proof,” as well as the single “Armorgeddon (Shit On You)”, providing Vakill with head-nodding beats that are a nice break from the dark grittiness of his usual in-house Molemen production. This is not meant to be a slight at Molemen, since Panik’s contributions to the album (he produces eight of the tracks) are stellar. I’ve found myself especially drawn to his beautiful yet chilling piano playing on “You Don’t Know”, which provides a melodic juxtaposition to the darkness of Vakill’s rhymes, and the adrenaline-shot-to-the-neck nature of “I Came 4 U” that makes me want to go out and fight someone. There is great contrast between these more foreboding tracks and ones like the previously mentioned “Endless Road” (produced by MGI), an excellent summertime beat that manages to be melodious without sounding soft, and the soulfulness of Bluntologist’s “Wild Wild” beat (which makes perfect use of a Big L sample for the chorus). It is this diversity of moods and sounds that keep the dense lyricism from making the album drag or seem repetitive.
As you can see, it’s difficult to find any major flaws with Armor of God, yet there are still minor imperfections that are worth addressing. Though by no means a lackluster MC, longtime Vakill collaborator Vizion isn’t quite of the same abilities as his bretheren and his guest appearance doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. The posse cut “Beast Ballad”, featuring a slew of lyrical dynamos (JUICE, Rhymefest, Nino Bless, and Cooked I) looks better on paper than it sounds, for while Bless and Crooked both absolutely destroy their verses, the beat isn’t engaging or dynamic enough to sustain the five minutes of uninterrupted bars. These complaints are nitpicky, however, considering the immense quality of the rest of the product. Though it has been a long, frustrating, and sometimes demoralizing wait for Vakill fans, Armor of God is worth every excruciating bit of patience. He manages to take both a step forward sonically by employing a wider variety of beats while at the same time staying grounded and sticking to what has drawn fans to his work since The Darkest Cloud: Exquisite rhyming and a menacing demeanor. It’s been a few years, but it’s clear the time off has allowed Vakill to sharpen his skills hone his craft to mind-boggling levels.
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