Sunday, October 23, 2011

Memphis rapper Cities Aviv delivers hip hop for the soul

Gavin Mays has always tried to do something different.

Mays, better known as Cities Aviv, once kicked it as the vocalist in a hardcore band. Ever since the Memphis native got involved in hip hop, he's been busy dodging comparisons to Three Six Mafia, regularly drawing comparisons to RZA, and rewriting the entire handbook on Memphis rap.

Digital Lows, his debut album, does so many things right. Mays shows great insight with his lyrics and a great sense of passion with his voice, but the beats are the show stealer. You're going to be exposed to such vivid imagery that you'll swear you're playing stickball in the crowded city streets.

The beats are heavily steeped in 70s style soul and funk. It creates a lush tapestry on which Mays constructs his rhymes; there is a wide range of emotions being conveyed. There's a sense of passion and authenticity in his voice as well as a sense of urgency, as if there's this one key concept that he has absolutely got to get through to you.

He is also a master at infusing his personality into his writing. He'll gladly tell you about his favorite rapper, Big Pun, and how much better he is than Tupac. And he won't hesitate to give you a glimpse of reality on the Memphis streets.

"For the future, how can I get excited? At 25 and black, I'm supposed indicted," he declares on "Black Box," which brings a heavy dose of soul both in the beats and in the voice of Memphis's own Fille Catatonique.

Other favorites:
  • "Die Young" switches up the formula a bit with a clanging metallic electroncia beat, while "Tounge Kisser" is a brief interlude which blends electronica and hip hop.
  • "Meet Me On Montrose (For Ex-Lovers Only): the beat is set to the tune of Oh Lori by the Alessi Brothers, and also samples said song. Mays recalls the carefree jubilee as he reminisces on a former love from his youth.  
  • Also flawless is "Doom x Gloom," is a brisk track that dredges up some very dark and ominous emotions. Imagery of drug use and hallucinations create some unsettling sensations. Mays asks: "Was she real or apparition? I don't know, cause when she talked I never did listen."
  • "Fuckeverybodyhere:" great track for when you just want to say fuck everything. Really enjoy the aggression in this track. And it's capped off by the soulful sample of Steely Dan's "Midnight Cruiser."
  • Capping off the album is "Float On," which is essentially a cover of a cover. Mays raps over Blackbird Blackbird's electronic cover of the Modest Mouse tune, though the lyrics are all his. It brings about a mellow, wistful, and dreamy close to the album.
Digital Lows really resonates with me because I love the diversity that Cities Aviv was able to bring on each and every track, while also presenting a flow that is heady and inspired. Great beats, great lyrics and great delivery; what more could you ask for?

Score: 92/100

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