i.S. the WizARd – Journey Of The Prodigal Son – Album Review
Well here we go! While we’ve featured i.S. the WizARd on our pages a modest handful of times on our pages over the past couple years, we’ve yet to have him in an actual review here at SBS; and as many of y’all know, that can change things! I’m stoked to share my thoughts on what this dude creates as raw & unfiltered as we tend to in this section of our site, and crack into his new album Journey Of The Prodigal Son. Let’s see what i.S. the WizARd, aka Manoj V. Mathew has been up to and what he’s got goin’ on.
As the record starts out with “Sunrise,” you get a couple of things that you’d probably expect to find if you’ve been a fan of the man as he’s been finding his way into the Rap/Hip-Hop game. You’ve got the cleverness of how he puts his rhymes together, you’ve got the clashing effects he tends to use on his vocals to create his signature sound, and you’ve got the slight hint of religious overtones…which admittedly, makes for an interesting combination when you consider the hook of “you should just swipe right” and what that would tend to mean to millions of Tinder users out there. What I’m hoping for, in pushing play on Journey Of The Prodigal Son, is that we’ll find a moment or two where i.S. the WizARd chooses to diversify the sound of his vocals and how he produces them…there’s no doubt that would make for a tall ask of the everyday listener if he goes after the full set of fifteen tracks with a similar approach. On the one hand, there’s instant identity & you’ll know exactly who you’re listening to, which is honestly priceless and hard to create for any artist/band out there in the scene – and on the other hand, it’s a tough sell in the sense that it’s always seemed a bit blown out when i.S. the WizARd is at his most intense. When that stylistic approach he’s chosen is paired with the incredible clarity of the R&B hooks of what you’ll hear in the background, it could work both for and against him in the verses he’s spittin’ – in my opinion, the hooks are the main draw here, not only because they’re catchy, but because of the clarity you’ll find as well. “I’m just trying to be polite man” – “Sunrise” ain’t a bad first impression.
“Music’s my medium, my lyrics are pure art” is a statement that you’ll hear in “Cleanse” as the record continues on – and you wouldn’t find me disputing that whatsoever. So what continually perplexes me, is that if that’s truly the case as he claims it to be…why anyone would want to create any additional barriers between the words and having those lyrics fully absorbed…is definitely beyond me, and in my opinion, that’s a lot of what has been holding i.S. the WizARd back further that he probably should be. For example – the final verse of “Cleanse” actually ends up being the most effective overall, because he’s gone down to like, one layer of filtered vocals…and as a result of the extra clarity he’s got, the accessibility increases – people will want to listen to that sound more than something they have to continually question is or isn’t produced right – make sense? It’s been hard to communicate that to i.S. the WizARd through our video posts here, which are more of a promotional tool – but here in our reviews where the gloves come off, I’ve gotta tell the man exactly like it is. He could make things easier on the listeners side of things…and ultimately, I know he knows that…you can tell because of how the final minute of “Cleanse” comes out. A wordsmith with the talent that i.S. the WizARd SHOULD have his words heard – and if commenting on that makes me the villain, so be it…I’m always willing to be THAT dude when things need to be said. He’s got all the right ideas, and now it’s just about refinement from here. I fully invite the man to put what I’m saying to the test and drop a record full of the clarity we all know he’s capable of, unfiltered…if I’m wrong and people don’t start listening more than they are now, then guess what? You can always go back to what you were doing. In the meantime, trying new things to get your art/music out there to a larger audience…evolving and growing in what you do & what you create…I mean, correct me if I’m wrong – but that’s ALWAYS a good thing in my books. Not everything we’ll ever try works, not everything we’ll ever do suits us, and I get that – but again, I can’t stress this enough…if you’re a wordsmith with gifts like i.S. the WizARd has, let your words light the path forward.
“1Day” was the most recent track we posted up here on our pages in the ol’ special reports section back in May of this year – you can read what was said by clicking here. And you’ll probably see the difference between our posts and our reviews – if we posted “1Day” up here in the review section, I’d have no real choice but to say he’s got too much grit in the distortion of his vocals for the average everyday listener to handle, that’s the reality. Great words are only ever going to carry anyone so far – it’d be the same with the music – it IS the same with both, because i.S. the WizARd has all that goin’ on, yet he’s creating this extra obstacle for people to get through, and I’m honestly just not convinced that it’s serving his music in the right way, or the way that he’s hoping it will. Like I said before, a signature sound is definitely an incredible asset to have…but you wanna be known for the right things, you feel me? The last thing I’d want for a guy like i.S. the WizARd that has the capabilities he has to express himself in words would be to be known as the dude with the blown-out sound instead of the man with the incredibly insightful words – you following me? I had some fun with “1Day” back when we posted it up earlier this year and chided i.S. the WizARd about creating a track that was telling us all about what he might tell us “1Day” in the future as opposed to just spelling it all out right now…and I still feel that way. To be completely fair to Manoj, his first two tracks are packing more clarity that you’ll find in this single.
Think of it like this…contrast is something we always notice. When the music has an inherent clarity to it, we can hear the difference between that and what the vocals have…so in many ways, it would actually benefit i.S. the WizARd to dirty up the sound of his music more if he’s going to continue to rock with the vocal sound he’s choosing…it would be more cohesive. That being said, clearly I’m advocating more on behalf of the guy cleaning up the vocal sound instead…I’ve been down this road plenty of times in the past, and it usually all traces back to the same thing – confidence. I’m here to be the guy to tell a dude like Manoj that he’s got every reason to believe in what he’s capable of on the m-i-c…and that the effects he’s choosing are much more of a hindrance to him breaking through to that next-level than they are helping him. Again, if that makes me the bad guy or the villain for being real & trying to help him out, then you know I’m willing to be THAT dude. Because everything else is workin’ in his favor. He’s got a completely catchy cut in “Resonant Resident,” and he’s got so much skill on the mic it would put most other emcees to shame…like I said, it’s all about trying new things and seeing what works. You can actually hear in this same very track that he’s switched things up a LITTLE BIT and chosen to go for clarity in some bars as opposed to the layers of effects…and while it might just be a little, it counts for a lot when it comes to what the people out there will respond to and want to turn UP. The best way I can make my point is this…when things sound blown out of proportion, whether it’s the vocals or music or both – that is guaranteed to be the number one thing that’ll STOP people from turning something up like you’d want them to…because their ears tell them it’s already past what the volume can handle. So there’s definitely risk with the current approach that i.S. the WizARd takes with his music, and my gut tells me that experimenting with more clarity is going to be what leads him to the victory his efforts deserve. Even the way he starts this song out with a quick and clear intro becomes one of the biggest highlights, and lets us get a glimpse of the real personality of the man on the mic. These are the kinds of things listeners really respond to mix-wise. Other than that though, there’s no doubt that i.S. the WizARd has got a track with single-worthy potential…”Resonant Resident” definitely has the hooks y’all.
Anyhow. I’ve made my points on the clarity aspect… i.S. the WizARd is welcome to take’em or leave’em, I’m just doin’ the exact same things he’s tellin’ ya that he is himself at the start of “Strength” and trying my level best to help the man level up, simple as that. The BEAT and music of “Strength” is completely awesome, let’s be clear about that…the man knows the right kind of sound to work with, and the clarity you’ll find in the production of his music, is pretty much flawless every time. This wouldn’t be any kind of easy track to mix either dear readers, dear friends – the low-end factor is MASSIVE and would be tough to wrestle underneath the red-line, but that proves to be no problem at all. Huge hooks in the music of “Strength” though…undeniably strong stuff there. As to what the real “elephant in the room” is, I think i.S. the WizARd and I have different ideas on what that IS…it definitely ain’t the man’s skillset as far as I’m concerned. This dude knows how to rock a rhyme right without a doubt…you get the sense that Manoj is the type of guy that’ll rap a list of items to himself out loud while he’s doin’ his shopping at the grocery store…the kind of dude that always finds a way to make things into music, which is a great part of his persona and who he IS. I also like that he’s willing to make important & insightful points with his music and stand up for what’s right like you’ll hear in his bars on “Strength” and the samples he’s chosen to add into it as well. He address equality issues, economic disparities, commercial & corporate greed, and how that affects the people we are – these are crucial things to address, and he’s unafraid to be that guy and do exactly that, which I fully salute. Again…I would want words like this heard without a single barrier in between me & what I’ve got to say if I was the one sayin’em…but maybe that’s just me.
CASE IN-POINT y’all…”Enough” says everything I’ve been getting at by doing things differently. As a result, there’s not a doubt in my mind that i.S. the WizARd has created a HUGE highlight on Journey Of The Prodigal Son. Is it something I really need to point out to him? Nope! He knows it – and more importantly, he knows exactly what it is that lead him to that in the production, mix, and stylistic choice he made in switching things up. On my first spin through this record, by the time I reached “Enough” I honestly wasn’t sure i.S. the WizARd was going to make that all-important switch and see what else he might be able to accomplish by testing the waters of more clarity in his sound. I can still hear he’s got the edge on the effects present, but it is dialed-back SO MUCH in comparison to the rest that for the most part, I barely even notice it’s there at all. Rhythmically, stylistically, he’s crushin’ it here to begin with, so the fact that he’s given this track every other possible advantage to reach the audience it should, is nothing but a great thing in my opinion. He’s “had enough rough love for a lifetime” and in that respect, I’ve gotta apologize to the man because that’s definitely the kind I tend to dole out in what I choose to write about in these reviews, but again, it’s all in an effort to help everyone raise the stakes of what they do, what they create, and how I encourage people to reach the next level with their music. Having said that, there’s not a single ounce of doubt in my mind that “Enough” is the best track I’ve heard from i.S. the WizARd to-date…everything about this track is wildly accessible, undeniably addictive, and has everything in the mix pretty much right where you wanna hear it. I’d be taking a good look at “Enough” as the blueprint for the pathway forward from here…the dude’s nailing it here, 100%.
“Enough” IS the exception however, and not the rule…but we knew that was coming. “DNi” heads back towards the original mix on the vocals that you’re familiar with…and that kinda just is what it is. Personality-wise, you get a lot from i.S. the WizARd in that regard…and I like how he’s put this track together in terms of his ideas. He talks about perspectives, diversity, inclusion, perception…there’s a lot of substantial content in this cut. Everything you’ll find on this record is fairly short, usually hovering under the three-minute mark…so the tracks fly by fairly quickly. The music tends to become the main aspect in terms of what separates one moment from the next, given that the vocals tend to sound so similar from track to track…which is another major point we can make in terms of the argument on behalf of switching things up a lot more in that regard, because the content itself changes quite a bit. You don’t want people tuning out when they should be tuning in, know what I mean? “DNi” is almost at the most risk in that regard, because we just experienced a huge highlight in “Enough” right beforehand, that it almost ends up feeling like “DNi” becomes an immediate step backwards, or an uninvited reset. Which could potentially be tragic, given how kickass the content and what i.S. the WizARd has to say on this track is. Listening to how he takes on addiction & tackles syllables is something else to experience.
I felt like “Lifes Plan” was a really interesting track in terms of the mix, and really made me curious about freakin’ EVERYTHING I’VE HEARD SO FAR. Because he’s clearly still using the same effects that he normally gravitates towards…yet there’s clarity we can hear in this song that the others don’t have. So what gives i.S. the WizARd? What have we been doing, and why? You can’t tell me that the blown-out sound is something you would want in comparison to what we hear on “Lifes Plan,” right? If you’re going to soak the vocals in effects, then there’s no doubt that the way he approaches the sound of’em on “Lifes Plan” is undoubtedly the way to go. You see y’all? I’m not just a dick for no reason, I’m a dick with a purpose…and ultimately, I just call things how I hear’em. When someone deserves credit for things going right, I’m the first in line to tell ya that, just like I’m doing here with “Lifes Plan” – and when things aren’t coming out as strong as they should, I’m also the first to tell ya that too…if not the only one out here in the independent scene willing to keep it real. Is “Lifes Plan” my favorite track on Journey Of The Prodigal Son? No. But I do appreciate that i.S. the WizARd has tried another couple tweaks of the knobs on the studio board here to see what else might work, and the clarity you’ll find in this track definitely makes it one of the album’s most listenable cuts. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the hooks on a track like “Enough” by comparison, but “Lifes Plan” is still among the better tracks for sure, and it’s another sign of Manoj making an effort to diversify his sound to discover what else he can do.
It can be harder to be continually objective when you hear a bunch of similarities from track to track, whether you’re listening from a critical angle like I am, or just listening to the album for your enjoyment. In some ways, I can hear that “Grind” has different vocal hooks that could potentially work for some…but I’m not entirely convinced they’re really strong enough to compete with what we’ve already heard on Journey Of The Prodigal Son so far. All that becomes more difficult in the context of a record with fifteen tracks on it…it’s intensely difficult to not end up repeating yourself in an album that size, or to avoid including a track or two that objectively could have been left out of the lineup to tighten up the set-list overall. My five regular readers know exactly how I feel about albums over twelve songs…I think there’s MAYBE about four or five perfect ones to be found beyond that number, and even twelve is dicey. It’s extremely tough to be objective as the creators & artists behind the music…no one wants to leave anything on the cutting-room floor after spending all that time on a track/record, and I get that. But that’s where I come in. I don’t think “Grind” is a bad tune…but perhaps might have been better off as a single as opposed to being included on Journey Of A Prodigal Son…I’m less convinced that it furthers what we’ve heard on this record so far than I am about it being effective as a stand-alone cut online.
For example, I feel the opposite about a track like “Maintain” – this is a very smartly written track that examines i.S. the WizARd’s faith, his relationship to it, and the way that affects the way he communicates with his family as well. Essentially, if you dig through the layers of effects on this cut, you end up getting to know the man behind the mic a whole lot more on “Maintain” than you do on the tracks where he’s just flexin’ about how he can rap better than the rest. Because most of us have probably heard that in some way, shape, or form throughout our Rap/Hip-Hop collections so far…it’s a staple of the genres, so we’re always going to hear it from now until the end of time, and if I had half the skills that i.S. the WizARd has in rapping, I’d be yellin’ it out loud & proud track after track too – but from my experience, what works best in establishing who we are as artists, is by getting more personal than that. As I’ve said often on these pages of ours, the more YOU there is in YOUR music, the better off YOU will be in the end, and the more WE will respond to it. “Maintain” is a perfect example of that in action – it’s not ALL happy, it’s actually quite grounded in what life is really like. Sure it’s got the religious aspect to it, which you may or may not respond to based-on who ya are and what you personally believe – but in terms of the way Manoj explains his relationship to his family, in particular his children, it’s quite the insightful track & real confirmation that it’s not exactly easy to “Maintain” from day to day, you dig? We try things, we experiment, we fail, we try again, and the cycle continues until we discover what really works for us, in just about everything we’ll ever do…I appreciate the man’s honesty on this track.
At the end of the day, i.S. the WizARd has got something to say as an artist, and I feel like he’s genuinely going to get better at how he expresses all that’s on his mind over these next years to come. I listen to tracks like “Patience” and, again…I really don’t want people to tune-out his words as a result of the similarities of how they sound to our ears. He puts some really smart twists into the themes of his songs and I’m simply advocating on behalf of using that same strategy for the tangible textures of the production and what we hear as well. I really like the fact that he’s put himself directly onto the couch as a patient of the ol’ psychiatrist on “Patience,” that’s a solid twist. It’s clever to have put himself on the other side of the situation for a moment or two…like he’s not entirely in control. The man gets it when it comes to how to formulate a rhyme and get the most out of each syllable he’s spittin’ – and he should be fully commended for that. i.S. the WizARd has got his thing, and there’s no question about that, but what he’s doing, he does to the best of his ability…could he use a bit more diversity in how he chooses to attack the bars? Perhaps. There are definitely similarities in how he moves on the mic that you’ll notice the more you listen, but if it’s what works for him, then right on…no judgments here. All I’m advocating for is that the rest of what we hear comes up to the level of his skill in how he raps; and if he can achieve that, I reckon the man’s in solid shape to take on the future to follow and reach the level of success he’s aiming for, however he chooses to define it. He’s an interesting dude, no doubt about it.
I freakin’ love the beat that “Power” starts out with, and I absolutely love the sample that he’s got in the mix to get this track going too…and if that’s all it was, I’d have been all about this cut as that’d be much closer to something you’d find on my playlists on the regular. I know I’ve harped on the subject a ton so far…but I’m not done yet…if “Power” had the clarity it needed, it’d be the strongest track on this album, hands down in my opinion. i.S. the WizARd confronts the devil directly here, which is a solid angle to come from with the religious connotations that he has in his rhymes; why not meet him head-on and settle the tab once & for all, right? I have no dog in the fight when it comes to the whole aspect of religion & God & the devil and all that…I’m always willing to listen, but it’s nothing that really has all that much to do with my own life and can be harder to relate to at times. I was raised religiously, but that’s about where it starts & stops…but I’ve always found it to be a fascinating subject when it comes to making music and what people choose to share & write about. I like that i.S. the WizARd shifts his gears to rap from both sides of the scenario here…that’s was a good idea, and it creates some additional fun on this track too. It’s really the sample & the music that are making this track for my ears personally though…it’s eerie, it’s haunting, it’s emotional, it’s real…there’s a ton I really dig about “Power” for sure.
“@anycost” is probably another track that I’m right on the fence about. If you like what you’ve been hearing from i.S. the WizARd so far, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t like this enough to stick with the record til the end at this point…but I find myself once again wondering if this song furthers the story of this album, or if the man should have been a bit more objective in selecting what made the lineup overall, which I suspect is the case. He’s acknowledging God as his ‘boss’ in this particular cut if I’m hearing this correctly…and again, just because that’s not how I personally get down doesn’t mean I hold that against him, or anyone else for that matter. Get your happiness & purpose from wherever you can on this planet if you ask me y’all…like I said, no judgments here. “@anycost” probably just needs a few stronger hooks when it comes right down to it…the music is probably the least engaging you’ll find in this set-list and there’s not really a whole lot of definition there…the hooks in the song & from the microphone…arguably, there’s not a ton happening there either. Or at the very least, not a ton that you haven’t already heard to some degree from i.S. the WizARd in how he breaks up his words syllable for syllable and has that rigid metering…he lets loose for a solid stream of lyricism towards the middle to break that up a bit, which I can appreciate…but yeah…still not quite enough to make this one stand out.
What makes my job easier as a critic is when artists/bands make my point for me, like i.S. the WizARd does the moment “Safe Haven” starts and you can FEEL the beat of the music completely come alive. If you wanna know what the difference is between a track like “@anycost” and why I felt the way I did about it, the answer is right there in the cut to follow when “Safe Haven” begins. There are MAJOR hooks in this cut in the music, and you can’t help but notice’em right away – every set of ears can hear’em and none of us could deny’em. It’s another track that’s fairly designed as a tribute to the Lord & whatnot…I think you start to notice the religious aspect of i.S. the WizARd creep into the album more the longer that it plays for. It’s really crucial that he has a full listen to this record though and realizes just how similar his approach to the flow & the way he raps can be…I think he’s got a whole lot of room to evolve his craft & diversify what he does even more, but it’s gonna take work. Part of that is in the effects…I’ll readily admit that…when everything has the same sonic texture to it & sound, it makes things seem more similar than perhaps they truly are…but that’s something he can absolutely change if he wants to. I like that you can hear the passion in i.S. the WizARd a bit more as the track plays on and he gets more intense with his emphasis. It’s still in the same style/approach to his flow and the way that he raps, but we do get a bit of variation with how amped-up he gets on “Safe Haven” at peak intensity.
“Prodigal” is a solid ending to this record, and delivers a bit more clarity to the vocals…and any tiny bit of moving the needle in that regard makes a massive difference in what we’re hearing on this side of the speakers. The more clean Manoj has been, the better the results have been, every time. I might very well be the only person willing to be direct about that with him…honestly, I don’t know. We get a whole lot of feedback in life that doesn’t mean much…advice has really gotta come from a place or a person that we respect, otherwise it’s pretty useless altogether…and I’m just another opinion in this world is all. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t – maybe he’s heard similar things already, maybe he hasn’t – all I can do is tell him what my gut tells me. I’ve heard a few records in my time as evidenced by the number of reviews I’ve written here at this site, but that doesn’t mean I’m the end-all be-all of what making music is all about. Take what makes sense, leave what doesn’t – but above all, continue on being YOU, and doing what you love. If that’s making music to the best of your ability, evolving, growing, and expanding on your skillset…then there’s ALWAYS something we can change and do better, no matter who you are. “Live and learn I guess,” as the man himself will tell ya. The reality is, most people do the first part of that statement and completely forget to apply the second…but time will tell what i.S. the WizARd wants to do with his music. To me, there’s a clear-cut solution as to what would make his music that much more accessible to all…and it wouldn’t affect the signature sound/approach he takes to Rap/Hip-Hop whatsoever…I’d still be able to pick him out of a lineup blindfolded just by listening, I guarantee it. But what would change, is the potential for how far his music could travel, how many people would be more willing to turn it up, and how engaged people continue to be throughout the course of an album. As it stands, Journey Of The Prodigal Son is going to be a challenge for many – but for those that it speaks to, I’m confident that i.S. the WizARd will continue to get even better from here as he carries on to that next album. It’s gonna take some objectivity, it’s gonna take some real criticism, it’s gonna take some acknowledgment that things can be done differently, and the will to try whatever those things may be. It’s gonna take some digging deep into creativity…it’s gonna take a real introspective listening to this album, and it’s gonna take the realization that yes, he IS capable of MORE. I just call it like I hear it, like I always have. I wouldn’t say it if the potential wasn’t there. i.S. the WizARd has a whole lot of great skills to build on…but now is where the real work begins in bringing his best to the surface & raising the stakes of everything he’s done in the past, so he surges forward into his future.
Listen to more music by i.S. the WizARd at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5tFaFUHd7NZlH0wUaI9u9c
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