“Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” – The RA Scion redux

Last Fall, Seattle Hip-hop artist RA Scion worked with a Brooklyn-based producer named Rodney Hazard and gave us all an album that defied expectations and elevated Hip-hop music. “The Sickle and The Sword” generated a ton of well-deserved buzz, but was quickly cut off due to some legal confusion and drama on behalf of the producer. The producer demanded that the album not be sold or distributed, and the album was cut off short.

Not so easily defeated, RA Scion and his team began searching for a new producer to bring to life the vocal tracks that had been abandoned by Hazard’s beats. Vox Mod‘s work caught RA’s attention, and “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” was born.

Here are links to the album:

I’ve spent the last week listening to the new album. The old version was one of my favorite albums to come out of Seattle, and I’ve been apprehensive about what the new sound and the new take on this beloved material might be. Not knowing what to expect, I abandoned expectations and dove in.

The surprising news to me is that the essence of the first album has generally been transferred to the new album. Despite the fact that Vox Mod apparently hasn’t heard the old album at all (or at least he hadn’t when The Stranger interviewed him), the album achieves a similar vibe that is conscious, mystic, intelligent, uplifting, challenging, and incredibly clever.

Here’s a track listing that compares the new track titles to the old:

#The Sickle and The SwordSharper Tool; Bigger Weapon
1Ex Oriente LuxPassage to Transience
2Constant (feat. Daniel Blue)Fixed (feat. Daniel Blue)
3In VenerationOpalescent Jetsam
4BackwoodsPlush Portal Stylings
5The Prospector's AppraisalIntrospector
6On Saturnalia Eve (feat. Blake Lewis)Venus in Transit (feat. Blake Lewis)
7MyrrhLaurel & Wine
8Hoof x HornHolly & Oak (Again & Again)
9BloodletterInterceptor
10Woodwalker (feat. Mark Shirtz)Finding Forbearance (feat. Mark Shirtz)
11Hungry Like (feat. Rodney Hazard)Patina Green (feat. GMK and Royce the Choice)
12Black FridayRun One Through
13OurSpace (feat. Romaro Franceswa)Interstellar Parish (feat. Romaro Franceswa)
14Seven Gen. (feat. Greg Cypher)Res Publica (feat. Greg Cypher)

I’m blown away at the contribution that Vox Mod gave to this project. Songs that didn’t quite land with me before, like “Hoof x Horn,” have evolved into some of my favorite tracks. “Holly & Oak (Again & Again)” replaces “Hoof x Horn” and brings far more to the table than the first version was able to bring. Vox Mod’s irresistible beat on that track turn head-nodders into dancers. The track flows and soars and drives through you, building and teasing and rewarding the listener.

Other songs feel so different from the original that I had to go back and listen to the Rodney Hazard versions just to make sure that I was remembering it right. Hazard’s “Seven Gen.” was a positive song but it never really resonated with me. At the Fall 2013 album release party, I was blown away at the energy of the live version and wondered why the recorded version was such a different experience. Its replacement, “Res Publica,” takes the song from a solid song to a classic. As it comes across in its place as the final track on the album, it feels like RA Scion has taken a trip to the future, through deep space, and is now coming back to Seattle with the same pragmatic intelligence that made Common Market so popular. One of my favorite tracks out of all of his work, “Res Publica” feels like coming home to the 21st-century answer to “Tobacco Road.”

RA Scion and Vox Mod

In some cases, I miss beloved tracks from the first album – “Woodwalker” and “On Saturnalia Eve” were two of my favorites. The tracks that replaced them, though they have identical vocal tracks by RA and Blake Lewis (Mark Shirtz recorded new lyrics), have very different feels. They are solid songs, they’re enjoyable to listen to, but I miss my old favorites. It’s bound to happen, and I’m just grateful that I was able to get a download of “The Sickle and The Sword” when I still could.

In the vast majority of instances, however, I can’t think of anything other than what I’m listening to. The album has a maturity, cohesiveness and sense of purpose that the old one never was quite able to achieve. “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon” is a start-to-finish journey that rewards listeners who like to sit down and soak in an entire album, start to finish.

“The Sickle and The Sword” was an ode to the harvest, reaping beats from the earth. It carried the mystery and melancholy of Fall, and was released near the Autumnal Equinox. Now we have “Sharper Tool; Bigger Weapon,” released almost exactly on the Vernal Equinox, which somehow takes the same vocal tracks and infuses them with new life. The album has grown, the Spring is here, and we’re all hoping that this new duo will last a long, long time.

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