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November 13, 2012

Album Review: PremRock ‘Mark’s Wild Years’

by @thoughtontracks

With the type of year hip hop is having in 2012, it’s no surprise that the genre is opening more lanes than ever.  So much so that it didn’t seem the least bit strange to me that New York rapper PremRock decided to release an album completely inspired by Tom Waits songs.  While there might not seem to be a lot of similarities between Waits’s music and hip hop, PremRock and his cast of talented producers found a way to twist Waits’ words, concepts, and sounds into a cohesive collection of songs that both build on Waits’ legacy and firmly establish PremRock as one of the best MC’s in the game.

While I’m only casually familiar with Tom Waits’s music, PremRock is clearly a big fan.  Every song title and the majority of the music on Mark’s Wild Years is taken from Waits songs, and it’s not just a bunch of random PremRock songs over Tom Waits samples.  PremRock preserves the soul of every Waits song, simply putting his own twist on the established material.  This style of composition, combined with PremRock’s intricate flow, give this project a lot of potential for replay value, from both the album itself as well as from the original Waits songs.  The creative concept had me pulling up all the Waits songs I wasn’t familiar with on Youtube to hear how PremRock interpreted them.  PremRock and his producers consistently manage to strike the right balance between creating something original while remaining true to the source material.

I featured the lead single “Step Right Up” in a Rapper to Watch post for Thought on Tracks last month, the song’s up-tempo feel and brilliant, straightforward use of the Waits original by Yuri Beats make it the perfect introduction to the project.  Waits’s “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” is flipped into “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Prague” on one of the albums best beats from Steel Tipped Dove.  PremRock strips the framework from the Waits song down and rebuilds it in an eerie setting that allows him to flex his improving knack for detail oriented storytelling.  “Temptation” is one of my favorite Waits songs, so it’s fitting that PremRock’s version comes with a verse from one of my favorite MC’s, billy woods.  Zilla Rocca supplies one of the album’s many, great piano-driven beats and woods cleverly namedrops Brandon Weeden in his expectedly excellent appearance.

The Yuri Beats produced “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, with its sing-along chorus, is the most fun song on the project and also seems pretty central to PremRock’s live-in-the-moment message found throughout Mark’s Wild Years.  PremRock shows off his versatility on “She Took All My Money”, metaphorically discussing the effects of alcohol abuse over yet another great beat from Steel Tipped Dove.

The album closes strong with possibly the two best songs in “Drunk On The Moon (Ain’t Got You)” and “Dirt In The Ground”.  On the former, frequent PremRock collaborator Willie Green utilizes the melody from the Waits original perfectly and PremRock pens one of his best songs to date, sounding as comfortable on the mic as he ever has while reminiscing on lost loves from a pub bar stool.  The song may be the best example of what PremRock has in common artistically with Tom Waits and shows why he thought (correctly) that this project would be such a good idea.  The album closer “Dirt In The Ground” is a soulful capper to what amounts to an extremely ambitious project from the New York MC.  The song and the album are both the type of music you’d expect to be made by someone more established in their craft.  Even though PremRock is essentially giving this album away, its consistent quality in the wake of last year’s excellent collaboration with Willie Green. Both releases prove that he is here to stay.  Listen and name your price for a digital download of Mark’s Wild Years below.

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Written by John Bugbee

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