By Thomas Johnson, April 3 2018 —
Grit won’t age but it will refine. Under pressure, coal turns to diamonds, sand to pearls and so on. These past few weeks have been replete with slander against Tupac Shakur, ironically by young rappers whose careers are largely built off of the unrefined realness of the late icon. Lil Xan piped up that Tupac was “boring,” while brilliant weirdo 03 Greedo later added some nuance to the discourse, noting that Pac, whose music still ripples across many a pond, was theatrical in ways that may discredit the lifestyle he preached. The debate between old guard and new is a conversation as tired as it is reductive. A comparison to Tupac should not be used haphazardly and must be considered with the highest regard.
That being said, Vince Ash, the latest POW Records signee, deserves that comparison. Despite hailing from small-town Indiana, Ash sounds steeped in California lore. Do Or Die, his debut, is an eon reflected in a third of an hour. Ash reflects on his life circumstances and the decisions that led him there. His ruminations are only disturbed by gunshots, like 20/20 vision through the barrel of a Beretta. It’s in the timbre of his voice, his accent and the grain of his growl. Within seconds, his mission statement is made clear: “I’d rather be carried by six than judged by 12.”
Ash raps headstrong and breathless, as if each bar is drenched in blue and red neon. The album’s back half attempts to reconcile the rush of brash hedonism present in the first half.
“I-80,” the daring outro, actually goes as far as to sample Tupac’s legendary “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” and the similarities are, to say the least, unsettling. Pac was, and remains, the prototypical gangsta rapper. Whether his music ages is irrelevant — his influence is secure. He painted the blueprint with blood and tears and the format will never feel dated. Twenty-odd years later, his impact is still worn on the sleeve or tucked into the waist of any aspiring rapper. And even without the shadow of the late Shakur looming, Do Or Die would still be a heart-pounding album. Vince Ash is as unflinching as brushed steel and harder than pavement.
Do Or Die will be unchained on April 6 via POW Records. Real recognize raw.