R the Czar. Borrow My Ray Bans.
Self-Produced, 2013. R the Czar: soundcloud.com/rtheczar
The stream of sound that flows from the thoughts and impulses of R the Czar's Borrow My Ray Bans demands respect, and most certainly a generous helping of several listens to appreciate the power of these well-hammered bolts of musical prowess. To miss the expertly produced, searing feel of this album on your senses is a misfortune that should befall no one. Chock full of distinct flavors on every track and with plenty of cameos from local Cleveland singers and producers what is contained on this disc brings many kinds of talent to center stage.
Flying at you elegantly the deft, devout soul of the album chimes character from the opening song "The Prefatory." The unmistakable influence of R the Czar's faith is never far from his lyrics, whether they linger on the trials of survival, the struggle to support family, or the simple gratitude of being alive even if in pain or loss. The label of "gospel" could certainly be applied to "Borrow My Ray Bans," and while some might expect the classic hokey screed of evangelism to present itself here what you get instead is an exhibition of how strife can strike at the heart and still not reduce a person to tatters. There are guts in the gratitude of "Praises to the Heavens" that are impassioned without being preachy."They say I'm lucky. Nah, I know why I'm blest. I can go anywhere without a gun or a vest. I say a prayer and I know I'm safe and all the chaos seems to go away." By no means is there ever a shred of doubt that sustenance acquired through belief in the divine factors into the lyrics and core of R the Czar.
Throughout the album there are intermittent appearances of the custom-made metaphor "borrow my ray bans," an invitation to see the world through R the Czar's eyes and experience the tribulations of his life, and what could have been a cheap gimmick of a title actually proves to be a theme that shows its merit. While shards of hardship are there the words often carry the same message: endure through arduous times. Nothing ever gets truly gruesome in terms of the images evoked but the friction is there, particularly in songs like "Matter of Importance," where violent feuding and senseless slaughter are called out for their absurdity:
"I'm just shootin' the shit and I heard the shootin' in Chardon. Niggas killin' for Jordan's I ask you what's more important? A man's life- or the shoes that he's sportin'? A man's life- or the girl that he courtin'?"
Words like the above are not minced. Clashes of different kinds are juxtaposed, and the fast-pace never lets down for those contrasts, each charged situation or feud checked off the list for their lower positions to the sanctity of life. Let your attention lapse for a second and you will probably miss a good piece of the nimble narratives at work. The connections of peace and oneness with others fighting out the same everyday battles are for the most part there, some songs engaging serenity more than others.
As regards the roles of the producers in shaping this album the plethora of people that let out their creativity for R the Czar brought a depth of dimension that aptly separates one song from another. "We Gon' Be Alright" has a solemn, crystal hum imbued in its veins courtesy of producer Hurricane that puts down a nice canvas for R the Czar and Kayla Ray to do their thing, while the production style of Speakin' 2 Xistence on "Late Nights" possesses a mystic, twilight feel to it. Taken together this mix of perspectives is the kind of blended experimentation you want to listen to, varied in mood, approach, and methodology.
Nine of the fifteen songs on this album (one track, while not a musical work, is an insightful excerpt of a speech from the documentary "Hidden Colors") feature some additional artists to join R the Czar at the helm, with particular standouts like the very extraordinary, angelic Kayla Ray (the next Beyoncé?) and artfully endowed Nemo showcasing some impressively polished vocals. It bears mentioning that there is, of all wonders, a homage to the late Aaliyah among the fray, and if that doesn't earn someone bonus points then nothing does. There's a roulette of choices and the grandeur of the mix is all the better off because of it.
To be sure R the Czar is an authentic artist, somebody that's grown in a big way since he released his solo mixtape "Note2Self," with the production and scope of this album noticeably more developed. It'd be great if the gentleman could get himself a webpage instead of being erratically spread out across different social media platforms but maybe that's just the way the fellow wants to exist biographically on the internet, like a sorcerer with piecemeal clones of himself.
As a creative figure R the Czar has got plenty of ideas and channels to draw from as so clearly can be heard in "Borrow My Ray Bans." Put his shades on for a while and let the man from Cleveland take you on a stellar ride. The fare is worth it.
Personnel: Armand "R the Czar" Davis (Vocals), Rau-Elle (Vocals), Forte Fly High (Vocals), Shad Hits (Vocals), Nemo (Vocals), Kayla Ray (Vocals), G'Bar (Vocals), D Snoww (Vocals), Qx3rd (Vocals), Pollo No Logo (Vocals), Tammy (Vocals), Speakin' 2 Xistence (Producer), Dube Villa (Producer), Hurricane (Producer), AP (Producer), Down Beats (Producer).
Tracks: The Prefatory, Praises to the Heavens, Late Nights, U.G.L.Y., E for Effort, 100, Try Again, We Gon' Be Alright, Chess Game, Finger Pointing, Extermination, Matter of Importance, Chances, 2 Cents/2 G's, Will 2 Win, All For You.