Though it may be a repetitive venture, if one were to make a list of the most underrated hip-hop artists of the faith I’d consider it a mistake if Ruslan wasn’t included. That might seem like an unneeded honor, since Ruslan’s usual hip-hop outlet, theBreax, has a good amount of household name value in the subgenre. But, just like the best professionals in any field will tell you, he does such a good job at envisioning, song crafting and writing that you may not take notice because the lack of blemishes don’t make you think twice about the quality. This doesn’t mean I’ve loved everything Ruslan and company has created the past few years…Maybe it’s because I’m in the opposite coast but at least half of his musical creations, both with theBreax and solo, go over my ears and, on repeated listens, I find little to latch on to that I didn’t dig the first time around. But for all the negative there are always positive tracks that will end up on varied playlists of mine that keep me interested in what he has to say next and I respect the declared vision. So, it’s with that indifferent attitude that I approached Ruslan’s solo album, “Carry On.”
The last time we heard from Ruslan was on theBreax’s “Never Arrive” where the crew preached the necessity of not settling on goals, low-hanging or sky scraper, and continuing to push to your fullest potential. In many ways, this album is the follow-up encouragement. While reached goals are great benchmarks and brief rest stops, constantly pushing yourself towards what you know you can accomplish can quickly turn into repetition that turns into frustration, especially with a lack of success. That’s where “Carry On” comes in, thematically. Album opener “Wasn’t Supposed to Be Here” sets the stage on a platform of confident horns and deep drum and bass echoes that Ruslan shares a scattering of his life experiences over. “Dreaming” is a quirky sound made up entirely of a quirky vocal sample and consistent 808 taps to the ear drum outside of the chorus. The sound more than the message makes this a standout. “Good Morning” is an anthem for the late night/early morning hustlers with the sounds of DJ Rek birthing a snazzy piano line, another serving of light horns and live drum taps that wouldn’t be out of place in a 1950′s nightclub minus the depression of the smoky atmosphere and guzzling alcoholics. The track again, as will the next one, succeeds at being inspiring through encouragement without being hyper or glamorous. Chellev lends her tightly synced guest vocals to the title track, boosting the undefeated streak of the album since opening to 4-0.
“It is What it is” is a sonic casserole of indistinguishable sounds that falls flat, despite the title being my most-used phrase of 2012. “Turnt Up Loud” gets the album back on track fresh off the skip button, in its trademark understated way. The cut features fellow King’s Dream mate John Givez whose gun powder line of word-of-mouth hype hasn’t yet caused my procrastinating self to look more into, but his sixteen bars here give me more reason to download his latest. It’s been a while since I’ve had a hip-hop song bother to relate to me on a day-to-day personal level in the way that every line had me either nodding my head in a silent amen or shaking my head at myself because what I just heard happened in my life earlier in the week. “Victim of Adolescence” does all that on its way to being the most important song on the album. In it, Ruslan lays out his subtle slide into the trap of extended adolescence that many in the subgenre have decried but it’s never been walked through in such detail, from root to resurrection.
“Swerve” is a more aggressive number, with rapid fire drum loops and heavier hits of bass that carry the track further than the recycled subject matter would usually allow. “In My Heart” has nothing resembling the worship stylings that the cynics (a.k.a. me) might assume based on the song title. Instead, Breax buddy Beleaf tosses the mic back and forth with his caucasian brother over a sound that has the arrogance and 808 hammering of a trap beat. It’s one of those tracks that you’ll smirk at while bobbing your head between the constant flow switch-ups and the obvious fun the two emcees are having while bodying the beat. “Kayfeum” is equally fun and infectious although, based on the urban dictionary definition of the title, you might have some explaining to do to the passengers in your car who mistake the Russian vocab for slang.
The album ends on a very pop-centric note, starting with the smooth “Virtue.” Tone Stevens gives a Chris Brown/Jason Derulo-esque hook in between Ruslan’s observations about the tact, and lack thereof, in the dating scene. The verses in between the shiny chorus could use some extra bars as the chorus seems to overpower the track by it’s constant appearance, but otherwise it’s fun when you’re in the mood. The perspective-giving “Victory” is solid and benefits from a singing performance from the previously mentioned John Givez. Lead single “Ready for the World” ushers Lecrae and Chris Cobbin’s in the booth in what could easily be a sequel or a prequel to their last collaboration, “Never Arrive.” I’m cool off Cobbin’s chorus and Lecrae’s contribution is fine, if limited. The sunny Cali vibe fits Ruslan, who produced the cut, more than it does any of his peers though, to be sure. Contrary to what the iTune’s popularity meter would tell you, this is a little ways off from being the best track here. Album closer “Thankful Now” finds Ruslan rattling off thanks to those in his life who’ve crafted and continue to mold him. Tracks like this are hit and miss, since most listeners have no emotional investment in the characters referenced, but a suave Jruckers beat and a solid J.R. hook make it pleasurable.
A couple things surprise me about “Carry On.” First, the fact that I found Ruslan’s self-labeled brand of positive hip-hop actually inspiring. Not inspiring in a pre-game playlist stuffed to the brim with swagger and 808 stomps but in an everyday repetitive grind, keep your eye on the prize message. Ruslan gets the invaluable truth that the best inspiration gives you perspective more than adrenaline. This is hardly nothing new and has been a trademark of his content but sitting down with a concentrated dose of it for a couple weeks helped me see how effective it is. Second, I’m surprised that I enjoyed this album as much as I did. Taking into my account the hit-or-miss relationship with the Russian emcee, it’s couldn’t have been predicted that so many of the songs here would hit the mark, both sonically and thematically. This has no bearing on the final rating obviously, but it seems like this album arrived at a time when it was very needed in my life. Perhaps the sometimes infectious, sometimes reflective and always challenging “Carry On” will do the same for you. At the very least it will keep your ear buds satisfied.
Categorical Ratings Breakdown:
Beat Selection/Production: 3.5/5
Beat Selection/Production: 3.5/5