Label and release date: BBMG (2016)
Following its release, I unintentionally listened to Ev Zepplin constantly: on my way to work, at home, while writing and also to see how it sounded on my headphones compared to my speakers. It’s the coolest album I’ve come across as well as the first album that I’ve risked buying since I was a kid without hearing one song from it beforehand.
Given that the name for the group formed by Chuck Inglish and Blended Babies is inspired by Led Zeppelin, it’s appropriate that Ev Zepplin is a seamless partnering of hip-hop, rock and other genres. Rock and hip-hop collaborations are common and even natural: both genres have performed similar functions in society – especially during their initial stages when both were considered to be a challenge to mainstream America. With Ev Zepplin, the use of hip-hop and rock styles is unforced and not over-emphasised, making the album unique in a way that wasn’t immediately apparent to me until after a few, close listens. It would be interesting to see the production process behind the album for a glimpse at how Ev Zepplin achieved a sound that is comfortable in several lanes; the production on Ev Zepplin is excellent, and I will return to it later.
Chuck Inglish is a notable artist in hip-hop who started as one-half of the iconic duo The Cool Kids and has gone on to produce with a distinct sound for countless artists across all spectrums of hip-hop, from Chance the Rapper to Rick Ross. Blended Babies, JP and Rich, is a production duo with an often hazy style that’s easily recognisable. They have produced for the likes of King Chip, The Cool Kids and Asher Roth, who Chuck Inglish has produced for as well. Chuck Inglish and Blended Babies have also known each other since 2002, so the formation of Ev Zepplin makes sense.
Despite Chuck Inglish being the lead MC on Ev Zepplin, it is big on features, and each artist belongs on the album without sounding out of place. So much that the artists on Ev Zepplin are inseparable from the beat: the opening track, We On, features Jordis Unga and Nathan Santos. The combinations of the latter’s rock-star-like hook and Jordis Unga’s aggressive but rhythmic delivery, along with Chuck Inglish’s tone-setting first verse, is a flawless way to introduce the listener to the style of Ev Zepplin. This sets up the rest of the album as similarly smooth compositions continue with each song. Over Much has the same impact as We On, but what stands out is Caleb James’s hook. On it, Caleb James doesn’t just want to convince the listener that he’s the man but that the entire project also is sure of its own effect and significance.
It’s difficult to imagine Ev Zepplin being as good as it is without its features, but similar to Chuck Inglish’s previous two solo outings, Convertibles and Everybody’s Big Brother, two of the strongest songs on the album, Scenic Route and Hang Ups, feature only Chuck Inglish doing the rapping. This isn’t due to Chuck Inglish being on a level above the other rappers featured on the album, but on Hang Ups he allows for the Blended Babies assisted instrumental to breathe while the un-credited feature’s almost spoken addition to the track is cool and complementary of Chuck Inglish’s part.
On Scenic Route the star is the instrumental. It starts strong and steadily grows while Chuck Inglish delivers some of his most memorable lyrics: “Perception is the apple of the eye / the snake and the rattle don’t have to coincide,” until it’s left alone at the bridge for the production to impress. The same effect is achieved with Chemdream, which has an instrumental that’s looming and dreamy. Aston Matthews fits the beat, and his content lyrically is perfect for the feel of it. This brings me to how the lyrical content on Ev Zepplin is fittingly appropriate throughout. A good example is drea.smith’s part on Re-Creating, which made me stop what I was doing and pay attention the first few times I heard it.
Boldy James’s verse on Light This Fa Me is also a good example of the cool, lyrical makeup of the album as well as a highlight of Ev Zepplin and one of my favourite tracks. Even feature-heavy tracks like Tokyo Keys don’t suffer from an overcrowded variety of styles as the content is still all fitting.
Ev Zepplin’s release was fairly quiet compared to some of the bigger albums released in hip-hop this year, but this in no way dampens its achievement as it is certainly a favourite for many. On Super Squad, a separate track released last year, Chuck Inglish raps: “Been the truth since before The Cool Kids left school to drop an album / that cool that you couldn’t be without us.” I thought the last part of that rhyme was a big claim to make, but it’s clear that there’s truth behind it as Ev Zepplin is one of the coolest albums available today.
You can buy Ev Zepplin here