Critic’s Corner: Decipher – The Best Things in Life Vol. 1

I know this was promised a month ago but oh well. Here it is haha.

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Decipher is an MC I’ve seen hone his craft for the past 6+ years now. I’ve witnessed him transition from a battle MC to a full out song writer and in my opinion he’s one of the most skilled artists in the game. Initially this album was supposed to be released back in April but was pushed back till October for various reasons. Now that it’s finally dropped we have the opportunity to hear some of his latest work as he hasn’t had a release since 06. De stated that he wanted to make this album a little more personal, and that he did it for the fans. So with that let’s take a look.

Who I Am – This is a laid back track that opens up the album strong enough but seems to have something missing. Maybe its because it initially starts to pass itself off as an autobiographical track but ends up being really vague and unfocused as a whole. It offers glimpses of various areas of his life that he touches upon later on. It’s almost like an intro but at nearly 3 and a half minutes long it drags a little bit. Also the helium pitch altered voice in the hook was a distracting stylistic choice but that may be just me. It’s not a bad song, just an alright one. However it does prove that de’s still in top form lyrically.

Back Against the Wall – A pretty decent track. Much better developed than the opener. The 80’s guitar riff in the beat complements the song well, adding a bit of atmosphere as decipher spits about persevering in different situations. The tales that he spins are still a bit vague but his delivery is on point, keeping the listener’s attention.

I Promise – In my opinion this is one of my favorite cuts on the album. The beat is ridiculously engrossing (if a tad messy) and combined with de’s flow, it gets your head nodding. This is one of those anthem types of songs (that every artists needs) that could be a crowd favorite when performed live. Everything about it has a catchy energy surrounding it despite some minor imperfections. If the beat could be slightly tweaked and mixed down differently this track would be epic.

She Bad ft Jam EZ This one took a couple listens for me to appreciate. It’s a track for the ladies with de spittin game. It has this syrupy smooth kinda vibe to it. Jam EZ offers some chill buttery r&b vocals that add to the overall package. I thought it was a pretty good look to reference one of his older songs (Girl From Around the Way) in the first verse. I wouldn’t say the song is fantastic but it’s pretty good. I think what I wasn’t feeling initially is that it straddles the line between smooth and sleazy.

Boys to Men – Finally a track that isn’t vague. Decipher offers some insight into his childhood and adolescence along with his best friends that went through it all for better or worse. It’s a nostalgic track with a nostalgia inspiring beat. Sort of reminds me of the South Korean film Friend(친구). Solid track overall.

About That Money – I’m gonna quote my review of the video for this song verbatim since my thoughts still stand.

I have to say that this single is very well done. The beat by X-Facta isn’t something that makes me jump outta my seat, but its definitely more than serviceable. What’s more important is the three emcee’s on this track completely and utterly killed it. I think I would have switched the line up a bit and have Shogunna open, Flowsik in the middle and DC close it but regardless they each definitely did their thing. I gotta add I think Decipher overall outshined everyone. I find that interesting especially since he hasn’t put out as much of this type of material before yet he seemed completely comfortable with it. However, the hook nearly ruined the track for me. The first time I heard the hook after Flowsik’s verse, I thought “ok, ok not bad”, but it got old QUICK. I think a stronger hook would have made this track exponentially better. Reign Era’s Ja Rule-esque swagger wasn’t doin it for me.

The Poison – Another laidback beat that fits in with the album as whole. De talks about vices and how they can destroy people. I thought it was good use of a instrumental that talks about being in love. He flipped it well.

Hate On Me – De picked a good beat with an instantly recognizable classic guitar riff sample. The first verse humorously uses the word “fuck” like 10 times in 5 seconds and always catches my attention. The content is about haters… ’nuff said. The hook tends to get stuck in your head, probably mostly due in part to the aforementioned guitar sample.

Good Times – This track is interesting mainly because of the instrumental. It uses a simple music box type of melody over a stripped, bare bones beat that is almost like a hip-hop lullaby. Decipher once again takes the opportunity to go back down memory lane incorporating a quick, almost double-time flow. He talks a little more about his parents and about growing up in Philly. I liked how he incorporated a little bit of korean when quoting his parents. It added a sense of authenticity. The hook is a little on the weaker side but does its job aptly. The song was another one that took a couple listens for me to feel, mostly because the beat and the hook are a little on the dull side.

PhiladelphiaOpening with a clip from the film “Play it to the Bone”, Decipher sets up a moody and darker track about the grimy side of Philadelphia. When I first saw the title I wondered if it was going to be a re-hash of one of his older tracks “P-H-I”, which is one of my favorites. However he took it in different direction. One can see his growth as a story teller as he vividly paints a picture, illustrating Philly as a place that seems more sinister than Gotham City. He made a good choice of beat and topic, but resorts once again to a half sung hook that is starting to feel a bit stale stylistically.

Let It Go ft Ailee – This is one of those songs that I really wanted to love but ended up thinking it was just aight. Decipher and Ailee have proven to be a duo that usually puts out golden material but even as a intentional follow up to “Let Me Hold You” (from a previous album) the topic feels a bit contrived. I enjoyed the track’s predecessor and thought it was clever but I guess the novelty and charm of the idea wore off. If you don’t pay attention to the content, the song sounds great as Ailee is always refreshing to hear.

The Party – Since this was released as the first single cut off the album I heard it months ago. Typically with de’s songs, if I don’t feel it initially, after some time I’ll come around but this is an exception. I just don’t think the song is as hot as de thinks it is. He was going for a real party club banger but it ends up being a track that awkwardly falls on middle ground. All the pieces are in the right place except for the beat. The tempo is a little on the slow side and the instrumentation just doesn’t have enough energy or catchiness to be a great club song. But once again, maybe its me as I can’t understand why a lot of songs are top 40 club playlist favorites. The track had potential but I wish it were redone with a better instrumental.

Life Is ft JohnnyPhlo – The song uses the same Debra Laws sample as J. Lo’s “All I Have”, but flips it a little differently (better). This is a definitely a catchy song. Topic wise, the lyrics are everywhere, being thematically similar to various previous tracks on the album. It almost like a summary of everything said so far. JohnnyPhlo comes in (a little abruptly) and closes off the song strong in Korean.

All I Want – Ultimately, I think this song epitomizes what Decipher was trying to achieve with the album as a whole. It’s one of those rare occasions where he seems he’s just being honest as he discusses the struggle of a death in the family. It’s not about swagger or bragging or tryna make a good record… it’s just spittin how he feels. A great closer to the album but it makes me wonder how much better it all could have been if every song felt as real as this one.

Conclusion:
Decipher mentioned he wanted to put out a more personal, introspective album, and to a degree he has. Making use of Al Pacino’s moving halftime speech from “Any Given Sunday” in the intro and outro, Decipher establishes the idea of fighting for the good life. He’s succeeded in making that the underlying theme to the vast majority of the tracks but some pull off the goal much better than others. Although he touches upon various personal topics, he often neglects to actually get personal. Instead he has a tendency to remain vague and a bit disconnected. Lyrically he’s on point as that’s always been his greatest strength. Rhyme scheme and wordplay and punch lines are all here and executed very well for the most part. Beat selection was generally good but I think there were a few stylistic missteps here and there, but nothing major. When comparing these songs against some of his older material it seems like he’s lost a little bit of the hunger and earnestness that was so prevalent before. With that said it’s still a very strong album that outshines most of the stuff people are putting out there now.

Must Listen: I Promise, About That Money, Life Is, All I want

aTunes score: 8.5/10

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