by Marcus K. Dowling
Of the arguably ridiculous (and growing) number of jobs I’ve held and tasks I’ve undertaken in DC music, the 19 months I spent as the Executive Director at Listen Vision Recording Studios/WLVS Radio had to be the most arduous, yet intriguing. In understanding the nature of the job I held, it makes understanding what makes Popular Misconception – DC-based emcee (and Listen Vision chief engineer) Awthentik’s latest album – so damned great.
Listen Vision is located directly across the street from the entrance to Howard University, and thus, in the heart of Uptown, Northwest DC, gives it a unique space as truly representing the heartbeat of rap music in the Nation’s Capital. It’s the heartbeat in the sense that the lifeblood of DC rap (aka, all of the city’s rappers) visit the studio for everything from studio services to video shoots to appearing on WLVS Radio programs. Thus, as chief engineer, Awthentik has had a hand in producing, engineering, mastering and/or developing probably a solid 75% of those considered to be the “best” rappers in the DC Metropolitan area.
But Popular Misconception isn’t about the best of our fair city, no, I’d probably surmise it’s about the worst. And ultimately, in being about the worst, an angry Awthentik has finally figured out how to
focus through his anger and craft a tremendously thought-provoking piece of work that demands a listen.
See, in being a commercial location in the middle of Washington, DC, Listen Vision isn’t secluded in a suburb as are so many other local studios. Of course, when you seek attention, you get attention. Sometimes – in a depressed rap environment across the board – that attention comes from artists who need as much work on content, delivery and presentation as they do mixing, mastering and distribution.
Just as Marcus J. Moore reported in his excellent review of Awthentik’s work for the Washington City Paper, when Awthentik says on “Blank Canvas” that “I make a masterpiece, it only took one man to make it / I say I made it in my mind, it’s real redundant when I say it” over trapped out 808s, it’s a tremendous moment. For a man who has to oftentimes hear egregious mistakes for eight hours a day, going into the studio yourself and executing with a mind set on perfection likely becomes an obvious necessity.
In the Bible’s New Testament Book of Luke 12:48 it’s stated that “of whom much is given, much is expected.” On Awthentik’s 2013 release Silence is Golden, Ignorance is Platinum, he finally accepted the challenge of his status as not just a veteran emcee, but of a man who had suddenly assumed the position of being a local rap leader, and a well-respected veteran. At one time, Awthentik was one of many in a slew of gifted, intellectually-driven and boom-bap era adoring area emcees. However, when the area saw Wale, Fat Trel, Logic, Oddisee, Shy Glizzy and crews like BOA and the Slutty Boyz leave our immediate midst to become nationally recognized names, a turnover occurred and there was Awthentik suddenly in the spotlight.
In nine tracks, Awthentik delivers a sermon. This isn’t a rap album. Actually, no Scratch that. This album is less preachy than that. It’s your big brother grabbing you by your swagged out hypebeast t-shirt, throwing you into the corner, and whipping your ass. He’ll take a smoke break every so often, but then he’ll get back up and kick your ass some more. He’s calmly berating you the whole time, as tracks like “Bamboozled” sound like the aural equivalent of Muhammad Ali working a heavy bag, an effortless spew of rhymes about a life just straight up and down lived in a less than aware manner.
In the mind of Awthentik (and in a similar notion shared on recent releases by other like-minded globally renowned acts like Atmosphere and The Roots) rap recently lost its way. Consumed by commercialism, when the trickle down hit the streets of a Nation’s Capital thirsting for dollars and/or blog hits (hell, anything symbolizing a piece of the growing pie of hip-hop culture’s monetized and mainstreamed push), things became just too much to bear, and from that pressure, a diamond was made.
Download this album now. Or, go see Awthentik whenever he headlines at the Fillmore Silver Spring. Or, go check him out at Listen Vision. However, I ask you to do this only if you heed this warning: if you are a fool, beware. He won’t suffer you lightly, and, you’re more than likely going to fuel his next release. More than deserving of your respect, certainly similar can be spoken as to the industry’s awareness of his star power. The truest definition of a phoenix rising from the ashes anywhere in rap today, he’s a rare and unique rapper and man at a rare and unique time.