Ahmen – Timeout – Album Review
I’m just gonna go ahead and say it…cause that’s what I do – starting any record with a Van Halen sample is definitely taking a risk. Chances are, if anyone out there still remembers them, consequently they get to also remember how old they’ve become and how “Right Now” was actually ‘a long damn time ago, as of now.’ Still…if they were someone we were all looking forward to coming back…well…hmm…no…my mind can’t actually accept that as even a theoretical possibility; half of the time when they DO mount a reunion, even half of the band of present or past members hate the idea of Van Halen being back at all.
That being said…when you follow-up your sample from an eighties band trying to hack it in the nineties, you better bring your A-game – and thankfully, rapper Ahmen does. With every hair on my neck standing straight-up on guard after the VH sample of “Right Now” begins the opening track of the same name on Ahmen’s new record, he pulled me onside quickly through insightful messages in his lyricism. In fact…even though I’d consider Van Halen to be one of the worst possible atrocities ever to occur in music personally…this emcee was still able to catch my attention quickly through the power of his words…and it was through this wordsmith’s courage and ability to step up to the plate of leadership that I found myself able to entirely forgive Ahmen for bringing back my childhood fear of Crystal Pepsi.
Sorry kids…you’ll literally have to Google that reference as to why it ties in here.
All hard-times aside, Ahmen displays immediate skill on “Right Now” and more importantly, shines a bright light on the fact that this emcee truly has something to SAY. Those of you that regularly read these pages know that’s what we’re all about here at sleepingbagstudios…I’ve long considered that to be a guiding principle that can decipher and reveal which artists/bands/projects will last…and which ones won’t. Ahmen lands on the right side of that fence immediately, showing he’s not afraid to speak his mind, speak up on behalf of others, and even get downright political. I got much respect for that. “Right Now” shows that as an entertainer, Ahmen understands where to pivot and shift his words on the bars & beats to get the most impact out of his movement and lyrics…as much as I might bag on Van Halen, no, I still wouldn’t deny the fact that “Right Now” was a powerfully moving song and he uses it smartly in this mix to help punctuate the overall point & themes of much of this record’s content. Timeout is almost the opposite word to describe this album’s spirit in many ways…Ahmen’s clearly not one that’s will to sit on the sidelines when the time for action is “Right Now” – this is a call to arms and a wake-up for the people out there to stand up for what they believe and the world they want to live in. Ahmen genuinely uses this sample to his advantage…I’ve given him a hard time about Van Halen, but the truth is, his makes an instant impact with a wise selection that grabs our attention through a familiar sample and then drops knowledge-bomb after knowledge-bomb on us thereafter. The energy is intense, the movements on the mic are precise, confident & powerful – “Right Now” will get you hyped.
Things are about to get even better. “They Don’t Care About Us” has Ahmen going a-cappella with the hook from the Michael Jackson song of the same name in a minimalist atmosphere that demands the emcee steps-up his game big time if it’s going to work. This is where Ahmen comes in. This is where he draws an audible line in the sand quickly on his new record as he displays a sick amount of skill line-after-line as he rhymes through empowering, rhythmic & vivid lyrics that explain in incredible detail how Ahmen views the world today. He gets right into the most important social-issues happening in the world right now from police violence to climate change, personal rights and freedoms…and the immediate threat posed by the direction of the current administration. Ahmen puts it best ‘it’s time to be a trouble maker’ – let the record show, the man is correct. I love the fact that he’s left himself right out there in the mix of this cut…there really is precious little happening in the music aside from a crisp percussion-beat…basically at all times, the star of this track are the words and the message on “They Don’t Care About Us.” When you put this much effort into their flow and that much emphasis on the importance of what’s being said…well…those words SHOULD be the star, shouldn’t they? No joke…you could go into “They Don’t Care About Us” completely ignorant and come out with a genuine education.
“Countdown” – how do I express my love for thee in words? This is an absolute highlight early on in the record that opens-up the accessibility factor a couple degrees wider. Ahmen dials back a bit of the pointedness in the lyricism and creates something a lot more universal here with “Countdown.” For those out there that grew up on real hip-hop from artists like Maestro Fresh Wes or crews like Arrested Development & A Tribe Called Quest – there’s absolutely zero possibility of you not loving this song every bit as much as I did. Ahmen hints of the storm to come in the opening seconds of “Countdown” and proceeds to unleash a category-5 force of verbal gymnastics that would land him a gold medal and a trip to the podium against the rest of the emcees out there. He speeds-up his flow here insanely well – but most importantly, EVERY word is still as clear as it can possibly be – and even though the lyricism here lightens-up somewhat, the knowledge, imagery and imagination he puts into them never does. Taking it to a seriously clever, aggressive style of real Hip-Hop…technically this emcee is showing just how flawless he can be in the thick of the atmosphere and flow, delivering maximum entertainment through every syllable. Ahmen is a SMART rapper – he understands it’s just as important to inject character and personality into the mic as it is to put in cohesive words that make a statement overall. “Countdown” is only a couple record scratches short of being a completely old-school style Hip-Hop jam – bottom line is there’s a widespread appeal to this particular cut that everyone is likely to dig on.
Like…okay…by this point on the record I’ve already been sold on the skills and talent of Ahmen – this cat clearly knows what he’s here on earth to accomplish…and he’s dominating this record with confidence. Humble confidence mind you – he’s not over the top like so many other rappers out there, he’s passing on the knowledge to the people like a good leader should – but also not afraid to remind you that he’s here to be number one in the process. “Want It” speaks to that completely. Not only does it give you what’s likely the best insight into the mindset and mentality of the emcee in question, but somehow Ahmen finds a way to continually raise the standards for this record track-after-track, with “Want It” surpassing expectations yet again. MASSIVELY entertaining track here, the music is hitting just as hard through an electrifying beat smartly laced with wicked electro-sounds and backing vocals that satisfy like a Snickers bar. You can hear the hunger in Ahmen as he attacks the mic here; “Want It” is a highlight example of what I’m constantly whining about when I’m desperately seeking out vocalists to CONNECT with their words…you can HEAR that Ahmen eats, breathes, sleeps and LIVES these words he’s spittin’ on “Want It.” He puts it into a whole new gear on “Want It” with a seriously vibrant beat that gives him all the room to pivot and shift off the wild energy in the music, leaving him wide-open to slam dunk his words, intentions and ambitions all over the defending emcees out there that think they can lyrically-ball like Ahmen does. They can’t. This guy shows what it’s like to be at top of your game on Timeout and he’s done it right from the drop of track ONE, never letting off the gas for a moment from there on.
“In Any Way” is a really well constructed and interesting cut…likely one on the record that will hold up longer than some of the others over time, but likely one that will also make its impact over time rather than immediately as the energy that’s been boiling on this record simmers for a moment. Featuring Devin Gatsby James – they trade bars on the mic here in a verbal debate that sounds just as much like a conversation between a person and their own conscience. Rad right? You’ll hear the smart way this track is put together lyrically…and you’ll also hear the themes of Ahmen’s real mission come back into the spotlight here. An emcee determined to make change “In Any Way” – these two detail the struggle of the grind and how easy the flipside of life could potentially be…and why it’s so important to travel upon the path of which they’ve chosen instead. Dig the haunting atmosphere in the music and the eerie amount of space that it leaves for these emcees to do their thang; together they nail this one tightly. I think coming after “Want It,” it’s likely that it’s going to have to fight harder for attention from the people out there…but when it comes to performance, execution and entertainment, really “In Any Way” is every bit as powerful. You can hear the genuine substance and communication in the lyricism…and ultimately, there’s so much being said here that’s worth going back to listen to again and again that it will continually lead people back to this cut to absorb it more & more.
Like many a great emcee, many a great mixtape out there, Ahmen begins to insert interludes into Timeout to further the messages and ambitions of this album. Going spoken-word style on “Lit I” he discusses the importance of culture, food and family and the relationship that exists between them, also between each other. In terms of flow for the record…I might have actually switched this first interlude with “In Any Way” from just before…I think that might have allowed “In Any Way” to make a stronger first impression, if that makes sense. An interlude is naturally going to dial back the energy on a record to communicate its message in 99.9% of cases out there…so if your choice is between doing that or doing it through the music, I think the interlude might actually be more effective, then bring the music back slowly through a cut like “In Any Way” and let it all progress from there once again. Don’t get me wrong Ahmen, that’s definitely a trivial & arguable point to make about the album flow that is almost hardly worth mentioning brother…but let’s face it, you haven’t really left me with much to complain about. Anyhow – when it comes to the interlude itself, “Lit I” is honestly a rad inclusion…I like the way it sounds, I like that you can hear it’s LIVE, I like the way Ahmen communicates his stories and experiences. All very sincere, very real and very well intentioned – the ‘Lit’ series continues on in parts II & III later on in Timeout, providing many more details to this three-part story.
“Left Wing” is damn brilliant. I really dig the contrast between the music, message and lyrics here. Ahmen’s much more progressive than the “Left Wing” currently is or SHOULD be – and a lot of this track speaks to that, especially in the hook that says clearly ‘I ain’t no left wing – I’m the last one left.’ Set against a haunting beat, mood and atmosphere…you can take that all at face-value here I believe…I’m pretty sure that Ahmen is taking what you’d almost expect to be supportive of the “Left Wing” and boldly pointing out the flaws in the system of their school of thought and current direction. Change takes action – Ahmen understands that; a lot of his ideals would certainly line-up with the “Left Wing” – don’t get it twisted…the difference between him and most is that he’s willing to fight for what he believes in. He don’t need guns or bombs to accomplish that – the pen is still mightier than the sword. While there might be criticisms of the system in here…ultimately “Left Wing” is meant to stoke the fires inside people to get us all on the same page. He’s unafraid to take a leadership role and challenge that system to become better than it currently is on every level…to me that’s what “Left Wing” was really all about.
One of the record’s biggest highlights comes through one of its most subtle beats on “Illuminate (When I Was Up).” This moment almost sneaks up on you through its sly placement on the record right around when many album’s start to show those signs of cracking – Ahmen raises the stakes here with a brilliant performance of his own on “Illuminate (When I Was Up)” and an incredible guest-appearance from vocal gun-for-hire Breana Marin. In a world that has already completely accepted Beyonce and Rihanna as the ultimate queens of our musical-universe…how in the world Breana Marin doesn’t already have the number-one spot on the charts or a track sitting right beside those titans is like, completely beyond me. She sounds absolutely amazing and completely stunning in her part throughout the hooks of “Illuminate (When I Was Up)” and delivers an entirely memorable moment on Timeout. Ahmen gets super-real with us all here, letting us all take a glimpse of what drives the man behind the music and the experiences that have helped shape him into the man he’s become today. Again, have a listen to the amount of his own character and personality he puts into the way he raps – because it’s that ability to communicate through the flow that speaks just as loud as the words do themselves. Ahmen has an incredible grip on how to make his words establish the impact they deserve…his pacing is brilliant on “Illuminate (When I Was Up)” and the sincerity in his tone really puts the emotion and power into this cut. Combined with that incredible assistance from Breana in the hook…this collaboration scores big and checks every box in the win-column together.
EVERYTHING about “Super 8” is rad AF and anyone that would tell you otherwise is just plain wrong. Mentally, I barely even know where to start with this one…the wicked bass-line and beat combination? The poetic/spoken word/free-flowing thoughts of Ahmen pouring into the mic so smoothly & so effortlessly? Or how about the INSANELY cool, simplified chorus of “Super 8” that has his vocal-hooks sounding damn near exactly like a record scratching? How about the absolutely amazing multiple potential meanings behind the title itself? The commitment and confidence in Ahmen’s work dives straight into its more artistic shape and structure here. While the beat in the music has a hypnotic and repetitive quality to it, it’s all highly effective with the piano bouncing in & out of the spotlight along the way. Adding in the supremely unique flow that Ahmen twists into “Super 8” and you’ve got yourself one of the most diverse & versatile tracks on the entire record. Giving Timeout depth through a departure in sound and a continuous vocal-flow that rips between rap, rhythm, beat-poetry and a freestyle feeling, everything seems like it’s coming frantically and intensely straight off the top of Ahmen’s dome and into the mic…like he’s gotta get the entire contents of his thoughts out onto this track before it’s over. He doesn’t seem to shy away from the challenge so much as rise to it, speed up and really deliver something that’s bound to captivate the minds & ears out there listening. “Super 8” is seriously cool and real respect for the roots of Hip-Hop shining through here.
“Lit II (Interlude)” continues on with showing just how effective Ahmen is in delivering his message through the power of communication and spoken word. Paying tribute to the lessons taught to him by his mother once again, relating the importance of the impact just one person can make to this world – he tells the tale of a young 12 year-old philanthropist and the difference that Ahmen’s mom had made in his life. Ultimately, this cut really gets to the heart of the matter and explains the point extremely well – “Lit II (Interlude)” shows that we never really know the impact we might make on another person, but that if we’re doing what we can to pass on the positivity…there’s a blissful butterfly effect that continues on a chain of connection that can affect so many others by proxy long after those wings of inspiration are flapped for the very first time. Inspiring story and passionately delivered. I’m a huge spoken word fan…so personally this works for me…I can definitely hear an argument that maybe these interludes break up the flow a bit too definitively – but I think that in the end, anyone listening would understand how important these cuts are to what Ahmen is truly trying to communicate & express.
Timeout immediately resumes its energetic electro-groove through the collaboration on “Come At Me” featuring BRBRCK and AK Crystal. Lyrically, on a record like this that hasn’t been afraid to comment on societal issues the entire way through, “Come At Me” still stands-out as one of the best and most direct. These lines are more than just rap – they’re important insight into the heart of the people in America and what that undefeatable spirit really sounds like. “Come At Me” is definitely a statement in itself and a direct challenge from the people to the establishment…that being said, they HAVE been bringing it…it’s my one true hope that words encouraging the unity and strengths between us could find the ears that need to hear the message most…and potentially change some minds with the powerful points that Ahmen and BRBRCK make along the way. AK Crystal does a great job of adding that additional bright-spark with the lightness in her tone…it’s an empowering anthem and a serious reminder that the people will always be the strength of the country, not the other way around.
As the record heads into its 4th quarter – Ahmen continues to get more direct on “Politicians Lie.”
But before we get into that…the award for most brilliant line in a hook and unexpected lyric out of left-field that works way better than you’d ever imagine…goes to…’Double-up on the hugs bitch’ from rapper/Hip-Hop artist Ahmen on “Politicians Lie!” (Crowd goes wild with deserved applause)
For real – that’s an absolutely wicked moment in “Politicians Lie” – but this whole jam is a powerful one overall. Busting out with added edge to his tone on the most lyrically-ferocious track on the record, Ahmen exposes the failings in the political universe and certainly that of the current administration. The unfortunate reality of much of what he’s rapping about…is that these problems have existed for years; they’re all way more in the spotlight now because there’s a president in the White House whose ineptitude is creating more turbulence in America than ever before – but the even the lyrics themselves, as much as they apply to #45 and how they’re currently deconstructing the country, they’re also highly universal in how they point out the way politicians typically & predictably react & respond to social situations of all kinds. Or the way they typically & predictably FAIL to react & respond properly. The string of words and imagery from Ahmen is flawlessly energetic and amped-up…the chorus comes out sounding absolutely MASSIVE…beat is tight and the message is clearly at the forefront – I felt like “Politicians Lie” was another huge win for Ahmen’s music…and also another solid representation of the leadership he possesses. You can hear him stomping and storming on the mic all-over politicians here and ready to lead the battle for truth to prevail over all the careless mistruths cast around in this world.
Man. “Vertigo” is probably the toughest song on the record lyrically and thematically. Featuring The Real DMT ripping up the mic…from the hooks to the verse, this track comments on the unfortunate reality that we’ve still got a hell of a long way to go before we’re all as ‘woke’ as we like to think we are. Nothing I can say to dispute that without lying to you all…I completely agree with this cut’s sentiment. “Vertigo” makes sure to reinforce the fact that those people, those leaders, those that are unafraid to speak-up on behalf of the rest ARE out there…but it certainly also reminds us just how many of us out there are potentially shrinking away from the responsibility we have to join in the battle. The Real DMT lays out the indisputable facts right from the drop on “Vertigo” with a wickedly quick flow that says pretty much everything that needs to be said to understand where they’re coming from. Ahmen steps in mid-track to confirm what The Real DMT was explaining to us, adding more examples of the issues that need to be addressed as a society…and the fact that we need to rally, as a people, to bring about that change. That’s the key…they know it…and deep down inside, we all know it too. I say “Vertigo” is a tough track to take on as a listener because it completely forces you to stare right into the darkness, or even worse, the potential darkness to come, and examine your own role and whether or not you’ve done what you can to stand up for what you believe in & prevent the oncoming disaster of division.
‘Sometimes when you don’t even realize it, you change someone’s life…and then that person goes on to change the world. And changing the world is simpler than you think.’
Absorb those words and think about them for a moment. If there’s ultimately one message on this particular record that I truly believe Ahmen is trying to communicate to us all – I’d have to say that’d be it. Through the powerful summation of the story that began with “Lit I” on the final chapter of “Lit III” – this inspiring tale comes to its conclusion by reminding us that we can, as a people, inspire each other. Busting into a freestyle flow to rip through the final minute of “Lit III” – you can hear from both the spoken word and rap just how fired-up, passionate and committed to spreading positivity and unity that Ahmen truly is. After listening to the entirety of Timeout, I have no doubt whatsoever that this is indeed, a champion that the people need; his music & lyrics make an impact – his cadence and belief in what he says reveal the heart of a lion who’s ready to take on the responsibility of protecting the pride. The best way that Ahmen can do that, is by passing on the knowledge, attitude and enthusiasm right onto us as listeners through his art, words and music – the entire ‘Lit’ series of interludes proves that, finding its most powerful moments through the final chapter, “Lit III (Interlude).”
Much the same could be said for the final track, “Our Time” featuring hooks from Sia on an “Unstoppable Remix” being the perfect conclusion to Timeout from Ahmen. I might have given him a hard time for including Van Halen in the mix early on – but make no mistake, I’ve loved every track along the way, including that one. I don’t think that Ahmen has just made another typical record here – he’s really achieved a perfection in the balance between message and music…and in multiple scenarios along the way, he’s been able to point of the direness of the situation without ever giving up on the people, or on the hope for that better tomorrow. “Our Time” becomes that powerful anthem…if you’re not energized to get out there and make change, unify and take a stand for what’s right in our world from listening to this final cut…well…then they probably just took you off life support & I forgive you…as for the rest of us out there with a pulse and a heartbeat – this last track SHOULD make an impact on you.
I’m impressed by the skills, the thoughtfulness, the sentiment and the intentions just as much as I am the innovative sounds and approach he’s applied to Timeout – I maintain, in my own humble estimation, Ahmen is that champion music so sorely needs right now…a confident voice, powerful inspiration and serious light of hope in what threatens to be an ever-darkening planet. Our world needs heroes like this, more now than it ever has before…I’m definitely stoked to hear Ahmen embracing the power of his words and passing the energy right on to the people – he’s created an insightfully brilliant, highly-relevant and important record with Timeout that advocates strongly for change and demonstrates the unity and strengths that exist between us all at every possible moment.
Find out more from Ahmen’s official website at: http://www.ahmen.us/