As a first effort from new music label YZY SND, you probably haven’t heard of Abstract Mindstate, or their comeback album Dreams Still Inspire. Well, there’s a reason for that: it lived in the shadow of a much more anticipated piece of work from its producer Kanye West. Separating from that, should the return of this group have been more lauded?
Abstract Mindstate has not released a record in over 10 years, and it shows. Most songs on here can be described as cracking open time capsules, giving that vibe of something you’d hear in the late 90’s or early noughties. The intro track ‘Salutations’ transports you into the past with a melody you could only imagine hearing on an iPod.
Olskool is the first person you hear on the mic, and his words of welcome are very much appreciated: “That Yeezy sound is like a welcome mat / So you could live well, welcome back.” His flow is a little stuck in the past, very basic rhyming schemes and strict rhythm takes hold. Thankfully, because of the confidence and consistency in how he delivers lines, it’s quite enjoyable, and you start feeling the hit of every sentence.
What makes Abstract Mindstate unique is the fact that they’re a man and woman duo, something you don’t see too often. E.P. Da Hellcat should be rusty after years away from the scene, but her comeback performance would tell you otherwise. Just like Olskool, the performance feels dated but is very strong nonetheless, and the two of them make an excellent team. It almost feels like a relay race, two professionals passing the baton when the time is just right. My favourite line of hers comes from ‘Move Yo Body’: “You stumbling, wondering what to think / Approaching, fumbling food and drink / Slurring and sweating like you stink.” Her delivery and flow here really is a highlight, and it was a shock to the system hearing her open a verse this way.
This album certainly has some highs - its lead single ‘A Wise Tale’ shows how an old sound can be made new again with some quality lyricism and production from Kanye, but its lows kind of show why “classic” hip-hop has stayed classic. ‘Social Media’ is not a good track: it has a nausea-inducing beat and mix, and the lyrics make the artists seem more out of touch than they should be. “That social media got you, don’t it? / Make you feel the most important here, don’t it?” Lines like these just feel corny; we all know that “social media = bad” isn’t exactly the hottest of takes, but stating it like this and making a whole song around it only adds to the old-factor.
To address the elephant in the room, yes, Kanye West produced this album and the fervor around Donda overshadowed this other work. The production here is clean throughout, but very much laid-back. Most songs felt like Ye found a good sample, chopped it up and looped it for about two and a half minutes. If the hook is good, it keeps you entertained, but it does get repetitive, and leaves you focusing on the vocals more - for better and for worse. If you want that classic Kanye feeling, this feels like the work he did before he released The College Dropout. Seeing him in the producer chair again is good to see nonetheless.
If you’ve been missing that old school hip hop sound, or are desperate for a Kanye fix, I can recommend ‘Dreams Still Inspire.’ It’s a solid record. Otherwise, it’s probably not for you. I want Abstract Mindstate to succeed, but they need to evolve and try new things if they want to break out in the future.