Building off of the Samurai Shin Manga series which began this spring, the story’s creators Mikel Miles and Ivan Earl Aguilar have released The Prelude EP which looks to pick up even more momentum for their creative universe. Drawing inspiration from Samurai Champloo and Afro Samurai, Samurai Shin is an action Manga that tells the story of two protagonists who must face a mysterious villain with the intent of destroying their village. Through this EP,the creators look to add even more depth to their story and creative a truly unique experience with their art. With imaginative beats and quality performances from its guest artists, The Prelude has made for a bright surprise among hip hop releases.
The EP takes it’s time getting started with a series of short, sporadic tracks. This style immediately reminded of the legendary record Madvillainy thanks to the creative beats and brief song lengths on tracks like “Lost,” “Just Life Goes On,” and “Like Water.” “Lost” features snapping percussion that mixes well with the lovely piano rhythm which creates a relaxed vibe leading into “Just Life Goes On.” The latter track, as well as the song “Searching,” feels reminiscent to the late J Dilla due to the busy, layered instrumentals. By the time the EP reaches “Like Water” it has developed a delightfully off-kilter sound that remains unpredictable when transitioning from track to track. Instrumentally, this EP slightly reminds me of Flying Lotus’ work due to its occasional ventures into the more experimental side of hip hop. The EP carries a serious tone though it still feels good-natured as a whole.
The EP then picks up some real steam when it reaches the track “Some Days” thanks to its fantastic production. The beats lay out a nice base for both features Kuro Silence and Torae to rap over. Both artists have solid lyrical flow that show hints of Madlib’s animated style. The track “Love or War” has Metaphor the Great putting forth a thick, syrupy flow that works well with his quick wordplay. Metaphor the Great’s style draws comparisons to the likes of Quelle Chris with a possible taste of Del the Funky Homosapien dashed in as well, especially on the chorus which admittedly grows a bit repetitive towards the end. The impressive guest verses continue on the final track “Two Katanas” which showcases the talents of hip hop collective Core Demonstration. The dreamy, floating sound pairs well with Core Demonstration’s unique chemistry. Their lyrics are a bit more detailed and narrative-driven than what was previously displayed throughout the EP. It actually would have been interesting to see this style more prevalent in the project because it might have solidified The Prelude’s themes a bit more. Perhaps the aim was to leave the main storytelling up to the Manga, but it still would have been beneficial for a more specific narrative to show up on occasion. However, what the project lacks in insightful lyrics, it makes up for in its continuously dynamic production. The instrumentals on “The One Switch” are quite beautiful, transitioning from piercing strings into pleasant woodwinds. These elements come across as honest and natural rather than inadvertently cheesy. “Blue Clouded Thoughts” has a breezy, subtle presence. The leading saxophone makes the track feel quite jazz-oriented and feels similar to the likes of jazz rap heavyweights A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
One of the most admirable aspects of The Prelude is that while it likely works when paired with its Manga, it’s also exquisite as a standalone hip hop album. The splendid beats and euphoric guest spots all make for a fun listen, whether or not one is familiar with the original source material. It’s a quirky, slightly experimental hip hop contribution that works on many levels and is sure to gain even more attention to the Samurai Shin name. One can only hope that their creative staff continue to drop hip hop projects to accompany their written work because this brief serving will leave listeners hungry for more.