Having claimed to be “top five when you talk to the greats,” in his new song, “Rituals,” underground rapper Ransom is one of many who believe he has not gotten the recognition he deserves. His new album No Rest for the Wicked is full of claims like this and attempts to prove his worthiness through his lyrics.
However, having been in the game for twenty years, Ransom seems out-of-touch and aloof in his public persona. His Twitter page is a bottomless abyss of motivational aphorisms like, “If you fall in love with the results you’ll fall out of love with the process,” and his location in his bio is listed as “everywhere you ain’t!” The result is a mixed bag of an album; his rapping abilities at times seem stronger than some of the biggest names, but he has trouble escaping his lack of self-awareness.
The single-verse opening track “The Hawk” has the same relentlessly inspiring sound shared by every track on the album. What differentiates this track from the rest is its constant use of boxing metaphors. His self-comparison to legendary welterweight boxer Aaron Pryor seems somewhat accurate. Ransom is a great of his own niche — densely-rhyming, underground ex-convict rappers who focus on one-liners — but he will never receive the same level of recognition as “heavyweight” rappers like 2Pac, Ye, or Kendrick Lamar.
The line containing the comparison, “A young Aaron Pryor with felonies on the wire / Fair desire, man, I’m really too old to be airin’ priors,” highlights the density in both the meaning and rhyming of Ransom’s lyrics; his statement that he must tread lightly when talking about his past crimes comes with him saying is perfectly completed with the phrase “airin’ priors,” which shares its pronunciation with the young, careless, hot shot boxer with whom he contrasts himself.
“The Gambler” is peak Ransom; every line is a pun or metaphor focused on a common theme (in this case, gambling). Lines like “Light your spliffs, life’s a b*tch, but you don’t need to poke her / I doubled down, they laughed at me, I don’t need them jokers,” and “‘Why’d you fold?’ N***a done told, so I couldn’t back a rat” are undeniably impressive, but are too funny to take entirely seriously. Dark comedy can be a useful tool in music, but there is not a hint of humor in his voice as he discusses topics like intergenerational poverty and incarceration. Regardless of how skilled his writing is, there is a looming air of tone deafness that few tracks on the album seem able to escape.
However, on the few tracks with almost no eye-rollers, the fog of old-headedness lifts and it becomes obvious that he is an amazingly skilled rapper. 38 Spesh brings out the best of Ransom in “Rituals,” in which Ransom takes a genuine, emotional look at his own life and gives an emotional account of his public and private images. “Circumstances,” produced by Nicholas Craven and featuring The Game (both of whom are much more famous than Ransom), has a great soul sample in the beat and features impressive verses from both rappers. However, they still contain this feeling outdated that more popular veteran rappers like Jay-Z, Aesop Rock, or Andre 3000 have been able to avoid while still releasing new music.
His unawareness of what younger rap enthusiasts might view as “cringe” or “corny” shows itself constantly in his lyrics. Some of his lines that he delivers like he intends for them to blow minds are painfully superficial mantras, the most egregious offender being the transparently tautological, “those who judge should never matter to you / And those who matter would never judge.” The song containing those lyrics, “Beautiful Gravesites,” ends with an offensively pretentious spiritual spoken-word verse Black Chakra. Spoken with the fervor but not the depth of a Martin Luther King speech, lines like, “when the suns went down, sons went down” and “I’m the man who made himself more than a Moor,” jab me right in the cringe bone.
Though Ransom seems not to understand why he has not blown up, it is no mystery to most listeners. While he is a skilled rapper when it comes to punchy one-liners and metaphors, he simply puts too many eggs into those baskets of his skillset to be palatable to a larger audience, especially a younger one. “No Rest for the Wicked” alone has countless memorable bars, but his art needs to be more well-rounded if he is hoping for greater heights of success than he has achieved thus far.