Review: ItsYaBoiH2, Pair-a-Lesions
Hip-hop started in New York City (specifically, Harlem and the South Bronx) in the late 1970s, but in recent years, the South’s contributions to hip-hop have been enormous. From Master Limit’s No Limit crew in New Orleans to Ludacris and all the Atlanta rappers to Pitbull in Miami, southern rappers have sold numerous albums and singles. Rappers from the Dirty South often project a strong regional identity: listeners who are heavily into hip-hop can easily tell the stylistic differences between southern rappers and rappers from other parts of the United States. But occasionally, one comes across a southern rapper with a musical identity that isn’t especially southern-sounding. And ItsYaBoiH2 is such a rapper.
ItsYaBoiH2 is from Milan, Tennessee (as opposed to Milan, Italy), but listening to his 2013 release, Bigger Fish, it was evident that his most prominent influences were not southern rappers. And the influences that served him well three years ago continue to serve him well on 2016’s Pair-a-Lesions, including Eminem, Jay-Z, Bone Thugs N Harmony and House of Pain.
One hears a lot of Eminem when ItsYaBoiH2 is flowing on “New in Town,” “Preachin’,” “My Basement” or “Fall at Your Feet.” Yet the introspection on “Lay It on the Line” and the title track brings to mind Jay-Z, and while ItsYaBoiH2’s lyrics are edgy, he never becomes as twisted or dark as Eminem can be. Of course, neither Eminem nor Jay-Z are from the Dirty South. Jay-Z is from Brooklyn, and Eminem is a Michigan native with a West Coast connection (namely producer/rapper Dr. Dre, the former N.W.A member who played a crucial role in Eminem’s rise to fame in the late 1990s).
Bone Thugs N Harmony are from Ohio, and House of Pain was a West Coast group with an East Coast connection: Everlast was born in New York State. So when one factors in all of ItsYaBoiH2’s direct or indirect influences (from Eminem to Jay-Z to Bone Thug N Harmony to House of Pain), it is clear that despite his southern background, he gets the vast majority of his creative inspiration from outside of the Dirty South.
Many of the beats on Pair-a-Lesions are funk and urban beats. But there is also a fair amount of rock influence on this album, from “Fall at Your Feet” to “New in Town” (which opens with a sample of Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam). And ItsYaBoiH2 acknowledges Led Zeppelin on two selections: “Easy” and “Mince Meat.” While “Easy” contains an old BBC sample from early in Led Zeppelin’s career, “Mince Meat” samples the Middle Eastern-influenced “Kashmir” (one of the most famous songs on the band’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti).
The merger of hip-hop and rock goes back to the 1980s with Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. They were the first MCs to incorporate rock in a major way (Run-D.M.C. with “Rock Box” in 1984, the Beastie Boys with “Rock Hard”). In fact, the Beasties started out as a punk band in New York City before shifting their focus to hip-hop. And in the 1990s, hip-hop’s influence on rock was so strong that it was impossible to spend an hour listening to a Generation X-oriented “active rock” or alternative rock station without hearing some type of hip-hop influence. So combining rock and hip-hop is a long, proud tradition that has been going strong for more than 30 years, and it is good to see ItsYaBoiH2 contributing to that tradition on “Easy,” “Mince Meat,” “Fall at Your Feet” and “New in Town.” But while artists like Faith No More, Rage Against the Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought hip-hop into rock, ItsYaBoiH2 is bringing rock into hip-hop (which is more in line with how Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Ice-T, Tone-Loc and others approached it back in the day).
Pair-a-Lesions isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s a solid example of a southern rapper getting most of his creative inspiration from outside of the Deep South.
Review by Alex Henderson
3.5 stars out of 5