Back in the fall of 2012, I was sent a copy of a hip hop album that was all about monsters and things that go bump in the night. The album was called Creature Feature and featured the rap trio known as Swamp Thing (Timbuktu, Chokeules and Savilion). The music had great beats and the verses from each of the songs were right up the alley of a nerd like myself.  It was my first introduction to Chokeules and I am happy that it was not the last time I would get to hear him. This Friday marks the release of Stay Up, a new solo album from the performer and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy. To say I was impressed with this new release would be an understatement as I found the music contained within more interesting and inviting with each listen.

Being a huge fan of pop culture, it’s hard not to notice Chokeules’ ability to drop a number of references to television, books, movies and music in the span of just a few rhymes. In Welcome, the introductory track on the album, he’s able to go from Bryan Cranston to Elenor Rigby to author Chuck  Palahniuk in just a few verses. This ability to drop references is shown off once again in Anonymous Tip where in one verse he mentions the Karate Kid, Friday the 13th Part V, The Far Side cartoon and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in a manner of seconds. A verse later he does it again with references to Back to the Future, comedian Reggie Watts, Mad Magazine and Henry Rollins. Looking at these references out of context, it’s hard to imagine a rhyme that would include all these things together but Chokeules pulls if off and it appears effortless. Everything makes perfect sense as the references are used to add to the point of his song and are not just there for references’ sake. Later in  a song about left handed folks called Leftorium (featuring Geek Hard favs Wordburglar and More or Les as well as Mighty Rhino), the mark of the devil, Albert Einstein and Ned Flanders from The Simpsons all get their time to shine. But it’s not just in his lightning fast references that Chokeules shows off his nerdy side. There’s a whole song that tributes inventor Nikola Tesla (Electric Jesus) and another that is from the view of a caveman thawed out in modern times (Pass the Torch). Add to this some great hooks and choruses that will stay with you long after you listen and Stay Up is a great showcase of Choke’s talents.

The production on the album is first rate. Of the fourteen tracks on Stay Up, 9 nine of them are produced by one of his Swamp Thing cohorts (Timbuktu handles 4 songs, Savilion handles 5), each sporting a classic hip hop sound backed by soulful beats and interesting samples. Abstract Armstong, Danny Miles and MMac round out the producing team and do a great job as well.  DJiRATE provides most of the cuts, swapping out with Uncle Fester for a few tracks. Stay Up has a fun, rockin’ vibe that doesn’t overpower the great work that Choke is doing on the lyrics and vocals. There were a couple of samples that caught me off guard (in a good way), the first being the Ebenezer Scrooge line from the 1951 Scrooge film used at the end of Anoymous Tip. It’s very rare to hear the late Alastair Sim at the end of a hip hop song. It’s also very rare to hear the late Phil Hartman performing as the “caveman lawyer” on SNL, but lines from the sketch are sampled at both the beginning and end of Pass the Torch. It’s always fun when the sample is something a bit different from what you might hear in your usual run of the mill hip hop.

Overall, Stay Up by Chokeules is perfect for if you want to unwind but not mellow out as it’s fun and upbeat but also a bit laid back at points. It’s one of those albums that you can listen from beginning to end and not skip a track. It sets a mood and sticks with it. The rhymes are smart and engaging and, like most of the other artists associated with Hand’Solo Records, have the right amount of pop culture relevance. The Album drops tomorrow, Friday July 11th, and is available on bandcamp. Check out the video for Anonymous Tip (directed by Dan Jardine) below and be sure to give Stay Up a listen.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

Pop Culture References over Slick Beats? This deal is hard to top!

Pop Culture References over Slick Beats? This deal is hard to top!