L'Orange is known as a producer, supplying the soundscape for many emcees. But through his work, L'Orange essentially becomes a film director—setting scenes built for the roles played by his collaborators. He often uses decades-old radio samples, creating the sense that you're listening to music from a different time. And the soundbites connect to the topics of his partners' rhymes, uniting to form a vague dialogue. Through these elements, L'Orange has made concept albums with the likes of Kool Keith and Mr. Lif, and now he has done the same with Solemn Brigham on Marlowe.
Brigham is a lesser-known artist compared to the emcees L'Orange has worked with in the past. Yet what Brigham lacks in notoriety, he makes up for in skill. Throughout Marlowe, the North Carolina rhymer shifts his tempo without losing command of the track. These flow changes become even more impressive once you notice the metaphors and wordplay in his verses. And Brigham's erratic style matches the odd atmosphere set by L'Orange's production. Together, the duo creates an album that isn't easy to grasp, but grips your attention nonetheless.
Marlowe begins with "Cold Open," which features a back-and-forth between Brigham and sampled voices. The dialogue on the track alludes to the album's means and end—the means used to make the LP and the end that it offers to fans. The audio bites mention partnership as well as a "search for a new world," describing the escapism that Marlowe can provide to listeners.
The dialogue also establishes the concept of the album. Brigham announces, "We got the seventeenth wonder of the world right here / We got the nineteenth wonder too." In this statement and on later skits, he sounds like an old-time ring leader introducing a crowd to a circus. This role of his is confirmed by other voices on the album. The audio samples that address Brigham call him "strange," and a soundbite from the Marvel character Mole Man mentions being mocked by other people. Altogether, the voices on "Cold Open" portray Brigham as an oddball, creating a distance between him and other people that shows up in many of his verses.
A prime example is the following song, "Lost Arts." The record is an onslaught of rhymes, uninterrupted by a chorus or any other convention of structure. Brigham doesn't sound like he's imitating Twista, but he still packs a lot of rhymes into a short span. But underneath the grandeur of his technique lies his message, as he raps, "I started my evolution of rhymin', persecuted, indicted / They instituted the violence that started my defiance."
With these words, Brigham establishes that he clashes with the world around him. He goes on to mention the threat of having his religion hacked, and near the end he says, "Raided the village just to make the place more militant / Painted an image and I don't give a Braille who feelin' it." Here, Brigham acknowledges the scrutiny that comes with deviating from the norm—a reality that a circus ringleader is bound to face. He understands that he has been made an outcast and his response is to become an outlaw.
This tone of rebellion exists through most of the album, but it never materializes into a fully-realized concept. I'm not sure if Brigham's verses are meant to be the thoughts of a character or if the ringleader refrain is just a symbol of his own perspective. Granted, the album may have been meant to be abstract, or I may just be missing the message. Yet, I am confident the album’s theme could be more accessible.
Marlowe's concept may puzzle some listeners, but one thing that comes across clearly is the level of skill held by Brigham and L'Orange. The former has a unique voice, reminiscent of the tones heard from members of The Pharcyde and Souls of Mischief. On songs like "Tales from the East," he manipulates his voice by intonating at the end of certain lines and bouncing between different cadences. These vocal shifts provide animation that matches the persona he assumes on the album's skits.
Meanwhile, L'Orange strikes a great balance between cinematic music cues and classic hip-hop sounds. On "The Basement," he matches ominous string play with a drum pattern built for head-nodding. The production on "Palm Readers" triggers memories of old westerns and "Mayday" sounds like it should be played during a car chase on The A-Team.
The theatrical nature of L'Orange's beats separate him from other sample-driven producers. Brigham shares L'Orange's rejection of the norm, allowing chemistry between the two that makes their album flow well. Marlowe’s theme may be tough to navigate, but the quality of the album’s sound shouldn’t get lost by listeners.
Notable Tracks: “The Basement” | “Gone Believer” | “Lost Arts” | “Tales From the East”