The 11/11/11 release of Alabama duo G-Side’s stellar fifth album iSLAND was quickly overshadowed by lots of folks thinking deeply about Drake’s Take Care. It’s a shame, because since their second album, Starshipz and Rocketz, G-Side have produced polished, engaging albums. Each successive release feels like they are on the precipice of greater recognition and that recognition has never quite been realized.
It’s not for lack of effort. G-Side make music that celebrates their work ethic. On “Luv 2 Hustle” they extol the values of the dope game, in so doing, contemplating the virtues of work in that game and otherwise. 2 Lettaz raps, “I ain’t rappin for a check this time/Do it for my young n*ggas next in line/Lookin at me/Gotta show em how to get out/Gotta be a ‘Exit’ sign.”
Indeed, the vast majority of G-Side’s music is hustle music. A Horatio Alger story not yet realized. And a question that arises for these guys, now five good-to-great albums into the game, will they gain that notoriety to make that realization. This uncertainty of success, makes their music — rooted in ambition and occasional doubt — that much more invigorating.
On “Recognize”, G-Side take time for a rare victory lap. Driven by in-house producers Block Beattaz’ anthemic keys and percussive claps, the song celebrates their increased notoriety and recent European shows. The song represents one of the lyrical highlights of the album. Yung Clova raps tauntingly, “Looking at me that’s HD/Know y’all n*ggas gon hate me/I don’t give a fuck, they praise me/Been around the world I’m back now.”
It’s probably on “Recognize”, nested towards the end of the first half of the album, closing a brilliant three track stretch led off by “No U in Us” and “24 Eight”, that the keen G-Side fan realizes that shit, these guys have never been tighter lyrically.
Sparse beats like the eerie “Rabbits” from new G-Side collaborator, Parallel Thought, allow the pair to stretch those lyrical chops. They wax autobiographical and philosophical. 2 Lettaz opens solemnly, “Now I’m the son, of the son of a cotton picker/Bible belt born/Made it out without a father figure”. Clova matches with his visualization of a too frequently observed story, “Young black mothers playing fathers/Single parent trying to raise her son, much harder/Then the son turns around becomes a robber/Trying to help the mother pay the bills and the doctors (that’s fucked up)”.
Each song (even dreamy tracks like “Cast Away”) is anchored by this realism. While the lyrical heights of iSLAND are new ground for G-Side, the thing keeping iSLAND from reaching the next-level greatness of their January release the One: Cohesive is that it lacks the sky-scraping production highlights like “Nat Geo”, “Jones” or “Pictures” found on that album. (Let’s not forget that we’re still talking about a Block Beattaz produced album, though — this thing knocks.) Even without its “Pictures”, iSLAND merits heaps more recognition than it’s gotten and is an apropos follow-up to the One.